On January 21, 2010, a cold, clear day, Dean Pierson woke up early, as usual. The 59-year-old put on a pair of blue jeans and a hooded coat before the sun was up, then went to his barn, turned on the lights, closed all the doors and windows, powered off the fans and cranked up the volume on the radio. He then shot each of his milking cows with a .22-caliber N1 carbine rifle, about 51 of them, between their horns and eyes, hitting their brains and killing them instantly. Pierson then sat down in a wooden chair with an upholstered seat, pulled a ski mask over his face, picked up a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and shot himself once in the chest.
I can’t even finish reading the article because I am crying so hard. Some time in the mid 1980’s I was only a hairsbreadth from death myself. Riding our old International tractor I would cling to the steering wheel fighting the the desperate urge to set the tractor in low gear, jump off, lay down in front of it and let the full weight of the loaded manure spreader crush me to death. It was February and the frozen earth would not have been forgiving.
I was never able to allow myself to do it because, how could I ever burden my two beautiful baby girls with the knowledge that their mother killed herself and left them? I still have my girls, grown to beautiful women with children, no longer babies of their own, and Lord though am I so thankful I never gave in, we have all still lost so much.
These articles always say that farmers don’t get the help they need because they are strong independent people who are reticent to ask for help. Maybe. But how do you ask for help that costs $100 dollars and hour when you are struggling to put food on the table for your family, and in the trough for your livestock? How do you give up the several hours a day it takes to clean up, go to town, get help, when so much is waiting to be done back home? This is not one time trip to the Doctor’s office for antibiotics.
Farm women don’t seem to figure into these stories much. I suppose because we are considered ‘the farmer’s wife’ so our statistics go somewhere else. We are often also the first to leave the farm for an outside job in order to make ends meet. Leaving our men to the farm, we become teachers and nurses, secretaries, cashiers or UPS’ers, while our heart is back on those green fields and barns redolent of life.
The basis of Rosmann’s work is what he calls the agrarian imperative, the idea that humans have an innate drive to work the land and produce food for their families and communities. He says farmers take significant risks to satisfy that drive, and if they are unsuccessful, they develop a deep sense of failure. “Farmers are motivated to hang on to land at almost all cost,” he says.
Everyone loses. Our farms lose the bulk of our labor, though chores await our return from the world outside to the world in which we belong. Our men lose a helpmate and confidant, an expert in their family farm who can’t fully be replaced by a hired hand. Our children lose a ready mother with time to teach them the ways of the barn and the kitchen, and the world.
And you lose dear reader – yes you do. You lose a 50 cow/pig/sheep farm cared for by people who care about their livestock, their land and producing a wholesome product. Your community loses people with time and energy to participate in the local schools, churches, volunteer fire and ambulance crews. You lost that neighbor who had time for you and your kids. As we all took that State Highway pipeline to a job in the next town, Our Towns lost.
The article speaks of NY Farm Net,BUT ,when the Farm Home Administration will not listen to their proposals, farmers are left bereft of their farms with mountains of debt gathering large interest costs. Their communities lose then too, as many are forced into bankruptcy.
The answer was not and is not the big, high tech barn that the Land Grant Colleges, feed suppliers and equipment dealers sold us as we struggled to keep up with the bills and get more chores done with fewer people. That was the accelerant that fueled the fires that drove farmers into abandonment of a way of life they were primordially suited to, and sometimes to abandoning life all together.
“They do what they do because they love it,”
”There seem to be too many years lately when they can’t do that, and it’s not right.”