Saturday, February 4, 2012

An American Farmer's Lament, a Poem by Hilary Hodge

Hilary Hodge, a young farmer-poet and bee-keeper, captured the struggles of the organic farmer in this compelling poem she wrote and read at the 2012 EcoFarm conference on organic and sustainable agriculture. She generously gave me permission to post it:

It’s hard to open up, to display my sad depression.
But indulge me for a while, as I share this history lesson:
During the birth of this fair nation, in 1790, just for measure,
90% of us were farmers, a new-born nation’s treasure,
And when someone went to congress then, it was a deal of sacrifice,
They had to leave their stock behind, say goodbye to beans and rice.

But now our system’s shifted: the cause for my lament,
By 1950 in this nation, we were only 10 percent,
Today we stand together, but quite alone we stand,
Today 1% are farmers across this dusty land,
As we work to give this nation, the nurture they deserve,
We are sadly undermined by the people that we serve.

There’s more paperwork than acres, more hoops than there are plants,
We fear our public policy more than aphids, more than ants,
We used to cringe at thoughts of gophers, we used to shudder at thoughts of blight,
Now it’s fear of regulations that keeps us up at night.

We pander to our buyers, tally daily what’s been spent,
We fear the strangers at our door are from the government.
We keep faith that one day congress might value things that grow,
And find a way to value farmers even much more so,
Where once we all were central, we now sit down in the back,
We hope that we can conquer, picking up the slack,
Yet they wage wars in troubled nations due to scarcity of oil,
And wash pollutants into waters from our agri-business soil.

While we give to local systems, and are stewards of the earth,
They undermine our efforts and undermine our worth,
They take our money for Monsanto through tax austerity,
But true homeland protection needs food security.

Farmers have enough to fight with, the truth of climate change,
We’ve yet to see a winter here, this weather’s very strange,
Last June our dear tomatoes were underneath the snow.
We can’t hire willing workers, who want to learn and grow,
We live in fear that regulators will come knocking at our door,
We have had to tell our neighbors we can’t sell them eggs no more.

Front-yard gardens on our streets, face the fear of fines,
Money’s being siphoned from our farms into our mines,
Our seeds are all but tainted with GMO contamination,
Our trees struggle to bear fruit from a lack of pollination,
Our bees are disappearing; our birds have all flown south,
And millions in this country have no food to feed their mouth.

The amber waves of grain, are all but gone and lost,
And it’s happened all so quickly, we can’t tally up the cost,
We give to warring nations, weapons that serve ourselves,
And we import berries for our grocers to line their winter shelves.

And we subsequently wonder why resources are gone,
Looking for new ways to pick up and carry on,
We have taken mass production to the standard of our trade,
Small farmers stand and watch, saddened and dismayed.

Our officials wonder why there are problems they can’t manage,
Are they too busy playing golf to see the awful damage?
I have a message for our nation; I’m not trying to be rude:
But when you destroy your farmers, you destroy your food.

We can no longer plant our seeds and just hope that they will grow,
Putting our last dream into the vegetables we sow,
We are facing great demise, perhaps a mass starvation,
But we care enough about our people and enough about this nation,
That we put into each gesture a prayer that it might spout,
We are a group of faith: That’s what farming is about.

And it’s not about religion but it begs a higher power,
That we’ve committed all our lives to wish upon each hour,
To put seeds into the soil, and keep our fingers crossed,
To keep growing year by year, witnessing what’s lost,
We continue planting pumpkins in a world of chocolate bars,
We see a light that shines before us, under a sky devoid of stars.

We have dirt beneath our nails and a problem on our hands,
But we are working towards solutions for the providence of lands,
And when we hold each other up, we hold the world as well,
We have come to wage our peace with the produce that we sell,
We are still the sacred backbone, it’s not broken, but it’s bent,
We are our nation’s farmers, we are the one percent.

Hilary Hodge is an organic farmer from the tiny and amazing town of North San Juan in Nevada County, California.  She graduated with a degree in English Literature, and after 7 years in social services, quit her job to return to the land.  She blogs about sustainability, sharing her passion for farming, social justice and localism.  You can read her work at her web site here.

Photo of Hilary Hodge: Stevie Ellis
Other photos: Urban Artichoke


  1. Thank you for posting this moving and intensely true poem, and Hillary, thank you for writing it. As part of NOFA-NH (Northeast Organic Farming Association), I'm going to bring this to our BoD retreat to share with other like-hearted people. Like plants, poetry can -and does- travel the globe, though I've never heard it called invasive. Blessings, Jessica

  2. I feel honored that Hilary gave me permission to post her lovely poem. I'll let her know your comment!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.