by Suneeta Rani Gill 10/08/2015
We talked some on the journey there about the technical aspects of growing wheat organically and about the seriousness of competition and jealousy between neighbors. She spoke to me about an occasion last year when she went to Colby and brought back her Uncle's John Deere tractor. As she filled the tractor with diesel at the Co-op in Jennings, another local farmer made a side comment about the tractor, alluding to its high cost and supposing that she or her parents had suddenly come into some money. Demetria replied that it was a loaner from her uncle so that he wouldn't think it belonged to her family farm. He retorted that he wished he had a rich uncle. She tried to shrug it off, but obviously it has stayed with her.
Among the farmers of northwestern Kansas that I spoke to, when asked about class differences most informed me that they had never thought of differences between farmers being based on class. An elderly woman told me, 'we all used to be in pretty much the same situation, economically'. She went on to inform me that instead of social class, she understood the public measures of success were things like amount of land owned, how well the land was kept as expressed by neat even rows of crop, the condition of the home and other properties including machinery. After all, everyone was doing the same work just more or less of it. In other words, there are differences, but they are more of degree not kind.
Another farmer told me that for him, success is signaled by a farmer's ability to make economic choices. This proved to others that the farmer is financially independent and could make his own decisions, even if the choices were the result of being deeply tied into the debt and credit system of large-scale farming. One's home, land, and properties are visible to the pubic eye. They could be evaluated by anyone who knew how to read the signs of farming; any farmer could hypothesize how well his neighbor was doing financially, which makes economic status impossible to hide. Additionally, farmers rarely spoke with each other about the difficulties they were facing. So, a lot is assessed by appearance.
The local farmer's interaction with Demetria indicated that the local community was watching. With every farmer I journeyed with, I noticed this kind of watching, mostly of fields and what was being grown and how the crop was faring. Most often markers of economic success were prized and desired--new grain bins, a new pick-up truck or farming equipment, an upgrade from an old farmhouse to something straight out of a city suburb. Demetria's response was also informative. It was important for her that her family farm was not evaluated by the other farmer based on this piece of equipment. She was letting him know that they were in the same boat.