Tap Dancing On Thin Ice
Dec 20, 2009
Where do you fit on farming's social ladder? A farmer friend and I often discuss rural issues, and one issue we have yet to agree upon is the social structure of modern rural agriculture.
When I was young there seemed to be a distinct hierarchy in agriculture. Hired men were low-men on the totem pole. Renters and share-croppers were a position or two higher, followed by farmers who owned their family farm. Farmers who owned multiple tracts of land, and off-farm landowners (often dentists, doctors and lawyers) were a rung higher on farming's social ladder.
Bankers and lawyers in small towns were on par with landowners. Schoolteachers, ministers and small business owners in town were equal to farmers who owned their family farms. Mechanics, carpenters and factory workers had status equal to renters and sharecroppers.
Modern agriculture has shredded my perception of social status. Some of the most prestigious farmers are now cash renters who farm tens of thousands of acres but own little land. Small family farmers may own their 240 acres free and clear, but somehow don't carry as much "weight" in rural circles as someone in debt up to their ears. Many hired men now have college degrees. A few have the boss's checkbook to make million dollar decisions. Bankers lost some of their prestige back in the '80s (remember the joke from that era: "How do you tell the difference between a road-killed skunk and a road-killed banker? The skunk has braking skid marks in front of it.) Ministers still seem to get respect, as do teachers and small town businessmen. Mechanics, carpenters, plumbers and other tradesmen now seem to be judged on the quality of their work rather than simply on their profession.
What has all this got to do with tools, equipment repairs, and other shop topics commonly discussed in this blog? Not much, but yet a lot. As a mechanic I find that understanding customers is often as important as knowing how to fix their equipment. My farmer friend says I'm tap dancing on thin ice by even bringing up the topic of rural social structure. According to him, there is no difference between a hired man and a mega-farmer in today's social scheme.
But watch who sits where, and who talks to who, (and who DOESN'T talk to who) at a seed corn meeting and it's easy to get the impression that at least a few people are still aware of rural social status.