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Dewey John couldn’t move past the anger he felt, which was mixed with considerable embarrassment. But he had learned a valuable lesson: be careful who you support before doing more research and learning the facts. You may regret your decision. He wrote the following editorial during the week of September 12, to appear the following Wednesday.     By now most people have heard that the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company of Chicago is permanently closing their pickle factory in Link Lake. They plan to open a large, modern cucumberprocessing plant in Green Bay. Starting next year the company will not buy cucumbers from a grower who does not have a contract with them. To obtain a contract, a farmer must agree to grow at least twenty acres of cucumbers and abide by Harlow’s many rules. A farmer must buy seed and fertilizer from Harlow, plant when Harlow says to plant, and harvest when Harlow says to harvest. The farmer must employ migrant workers who have been recruited by Harlow, with a portion of the migrants’ income going to Harlow. The Harlow situation is but one example of what is happening in agriculture. The big meatpacking plants are contracting with farmers and giving them long lists of rules to follow; so are the big 190 25 The Family Farm 191 The Family Farm poultry-processing companies. Is this what the farmers in our state want? We don’t think so. But many farmers see no other way. For them, the choice is to “sell their souls” to big business or get out of farming. Financially, the big agribusiness company may be a farmer’s only choice. It is a strange twist from the time when a farmer was his own boss, made his own decisions, and reaped the return on his efforts. Now a farmer makes few decisions, and the big agribusiness firm with which he has a contract makes most of the money. We believe it is time for farmers to rise up and fight this trend, to reclaim their rightful place as family farmers. Ever since Dewey John had moved to Link Lake, he’d been impressed with the small farms scattered throughout this part of central Wisconsin. None were especially prosperous, but these farmers raised their kids, sent them to school, and made enough money to pay their taxes and mortgage payments. The smart ones, and that included most of them, had made enough money during World War II to pay off the mortgages on their farms. Hog prices were good then; so were milk prices. After years of the Depression and then war, these farmers deserved to have things a little better. Now, Harlow planned to close the pickle factory and pull the plug on small cucumber patches. What next? Dewey John wondered . He had covered stories of University of Wisconsin agricultural economists coming through town since he arrived in Link Lake in 1951. They preached bigger is better—bigger farms, bigger barns, bigger tractors, more cows, increased acres of crops. The university professors also pushed for big consolidated schools and the closing of one-room country schools. None of these “learned people” talked about the effects of these changes on rural communities. Some of Dewey’s newspaper friends, especially those in Madison , said he was trying to hold onto a dream, a bit of nostalgia, and the sooner he moved away from the notion of farming as “a way of life” to farming as “a business,” the better off he would be. A friend from the journalism school in Madison who had read his recent editorial said Dewey John was holding back progress with his old-fashioned ideas. He typed a quick reply. Dear Tom, So I’m holding back progress, am I? First, what in hell is progress? Is it progress when farm kids have to leave the land to find work? Is it progress when a farmer has to work night and day, plowing more acres and milking more cows, just so he can make ends meet? Is it progress when farmers have to lick the shoes of the big company executives in order to stay in business, to sign contracts that take away nearly all their decision-making ability? Is that what you call progress? I’d call what’s happening out here in the hinterlands destruction. Blatant destruction of farm life as we have known it since the state was first settled in the 1840s and 1850s. Don’t you realize...


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