We were a farm family surrounded by other farm families and that sense of community left an indelible mark on my life. I grew up learning about things like honor and trust from men like my Dad and other men that tilled fields and milked cows. No one around us lacked for the friendly hand of a neighbor.
And no one suffered the agony of being alone when consolation was needed most. My Dad is the strongest man that I've ever known, and I never knew him to shed a tear. Until the day came that a 19-year old kid working on our farm - a young man that Dad had practically watched grow up - was killed in a freak tractor accident. In the short time that he was there Mike became like the older brother that I never had. And Dad, who was a close friend with Mike's father before he died, had taken Mike in under his wing as a protege' and apprentice... and even as a second son.
Every farmer within a five-mile radius of our place descended on our farm that day, as the emergency workers and others worked to recover Mike's body from beneath the tractor. If unable to do anything else they were there for our family, offering words of comfort and prayers. Just letting us know that we weren't alone. If it hadn't been for that kind of sense of common sympathy, I don't know where any of us would have wound up. Without the support we found around us I don't know if I would be sitting here now, years and countless circumstances later, interested enough in things to write my thoughts out to a blog for everyone to see.
You could trust someone back then, even if you barely knew them. At least until they gave you a reason not to trust them... which was so scarce in happening that no single occurrence comes to mind. In retrospect I must lament this observation: Those were the last days of that time when a man's word was his bond.
Farmers - and especially small family farmers - are at once the most critical and the least appreciated segment of any society. Ever stopped to think about the vast influence of the average American farmer? If it weren't for the toil and sacrifice of their long hours, this country would not possibly be able to not only be the only nation in human history capable of feeding itself, but also a good fraction of the rest of the world's population. They get nowhere near the thanks that they deserve, yet they keep doing the work they know and love best... because deep down, they have the satisfaction of knowing that they do the work that the rest of us don't desire but couldn't live without. They've found contentment in their place because they understand its importance. If you want to know a man who is sincerely humbled by his sense of power, talk to a farmer.
All of the above and more applies to farmers around the world, not just here. They might vary in technologies and procedures, but they share a common appreciation of the role that they play and the humbleness in which they accept it. Wherever they may be found, farmers are an honorable lot... which should lead us to be honorable toward them. It should compel us to appreciate them and give them all the honor that's due them.
Except that isn't happening in some places. In fact the United States government - under the direction of President Bush - is not only failing to honor one group of farmers: it's actively insulting them and destroying one of their chief means of livelihood.
I've never met an Iraqi farmer and doubt that I ever will... but I hope all the above has made it clear that growing up on a farm tends to attune one to the demands of being a farmer anywhere. Like farmers elsewhere, our Iraqi brethren have long practiced seed-saving: using the seeds from one season's crop toward the planting of the next. It saves money and it lends itself toward making the farm more self-sufficient. It also has the unintended effect of creating quality assurance: strains of vegetables are inclined to be consistent across several seasons, with the occasional mixing of strains keeping a crop from becoming genetically "stale" across several generations. Turns out that Iraqi farmers are pretty good at seed-saving, and if anyone among that country's population should be given free reign to manage their own affairs as they see fit, it should be their farmers.
Except the Iraqi farmers aren't going to be allowed to cultivate their crops as they believe they should be, thanks to George W. Bush. Turns out that Bush directed his man Paul Bremer to institute a wazoo-load of crazy laws for Iraq's new government when the U.S. handed over sovereignty a few months back. One of 'em makes it illegal for Iraqi farmers to practice seed-saving! Check this out from Grain.org:
Iraq's new patent law: A declaration of war against farmers
by Focus on the Global South and GRAIN
When former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer III left Baghdad after the so-called "transfer of sovereignty" in June 2004, he left behind the 100 orders he enacted as chief of the occupation authority in Iraq. Among them is Order 81 on "Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety."  This order amends Iraq's original patent law of 1970 and unless and until it is revised or repealed by a new Iraqi government, it now has the status and force of a binding law.  With important implications for farmers and the future of agriculture in Iraq, this order is yet another important component in the United States' attempts to radically transform Iraq's economy.
Now, why the hell is Bush purposely mangling the livelihood of farmers in Iraq? Read this and if you still think that profit wasn't a driving motive for sending our soldiers over there, I got some ocean-front property in Nevada to sell you:
For generations, small farmers in Iraq operated in an essentially unregulated, informal seed supply system. Farm-saved seed and the free innovation with and exchange of planting materials among farming communities has long been the basis of agricultural practice. This has been made illegal under the new law. The seeds farmers are now allowed to plant - "protected" crop varieties brought into Iraq by transnational corporations in the name of agricultural reconstruction - will be the property of the corporations. While historically the Iraqi constitution prohibited private ownership of biological resources, the new US-imposed patent law introduces a system of monopoly rights over seeds. Inserted into Iraq's previous patent law is a whole new chapter on Plant Variety Protection (PVP) that provides for the "protection of new varieties of plants." PVP is an intellectual property right (IPR) or a kind of patent for plant varieties which gives an exclusive monopoly right on planting material to a plant breeder who claims to have discovered or developed a new variety. So the "protection" in PVP has nothing to do with conservation, but refers to safeguarding of the commercial interests of private breeders (usually large corporations) claiming to have created the new plants.In other words, Bush used the power of the United States government - as it was "nation-building" in Iraq - to force Iraqi farmers to abandon their ages-old practice of seed-saving. It's now a criminal act in Iraq to use the seeds that you harvested from one season's harvest and use it in the next! Iraqi farmers are thus compelled to purchase outright only the seeds - genetically-engineered seeds that have expensive patents all over 'em, mind ya - that are being brought into the country by giant corporations like Monsanto and Dow. They stand to make a staggering fortune from the spoils of this war and its reconstruction.
Take a wild guess whose ear a lot of those companies had a long time already before the first troops crossed the Iraqi border?
Here's a hint: he's the same guy who wants to enforce mandatory mental screenings for all Americans so that his buddies in big pharmaceutical companies can make billions from the compulsive medications that will result.
I defy anyone to tell me that forcing the farmers of Iraq to do this - for benefit of companies here - is anywhere close to being an act of humanitarian assistance and goodwill.
It's not. But if you want another term for this, a powerful government bent on controlling everything allying itself with big corporate interests, I'll give it to ya: "national socialism".
Wasn't anything Christian about it when the Germans practiced it back in the 1930s and 40s either.