USDA: Rural population needed not for farming but for cannon fodder

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack values rural people less as farmers than as soldiers, says Joel Salatin. Photo: USDAgov/Flickr.

Joel Salatin recently posted this piece on the Polyface Farms Facebook page and we repost it here with Joel’s permission. — Ed.

Why do we need more farmers? What is the driving force behind U.S. Department of Agriculture policy?

In an infuriating epiphany I have yet to metabolize, I found out last Wednesday in a private policy-generation meeting with Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. I did and still do consider it a distinct honor for his staff to invite me as one of the 25 dignitaries in Virginia agriculture for this think-tank session in Richmond.

It was a who’s who of Virginia agriculture: Farm Bureau, Va. Agribusiness Council, Va. Forestry Association, Va. Poultry Federation, Va. Cattlemen’s Association., deans from Virginia Tech and Virginia State — you get the picture.

It was the first meeting of this kind I’ve ever attended that offered no water. The only thing to drink were soft drinks. Lunch was served in styrofoam clam shells — Lay’s potato chips, sandwiches, potato salad and chocolate chip cookie. It didn’t look very safe to me, so I didn’t partake. But I’d have liked a drink of water. In another circumstance, I might eat this stuff, but with these folks, felt it important to make a point. Why do they all assume nobody wants water, nobody cares about styrofoam, everybody wants potato chips and we all want industrial meat-like slabs on white bread?

But I digress. The big surprise occurred a few minutes into the meeting: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack walked in. He was in Terry McAuliffe love-in mode. And here is what he told us: in 2012, for the first time ever — rural America lost population in real numbers — not as a percentage but in real numbers. It’s down to 16 percent of total population.

I’m sitting there thinking he’s going to say that number needs to go up so we have more people to love and steward the landscape. More people to care for earthworms. More people to grow food and fiber.

Are you ready for the shoe to drop? The epiphany? What could the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, at the highest strategic planning sessions of our land, be challenged by other leaders to change this figure, to get more people in rural America, to encourage farming and help more farms get started? What could be the driving reason to have more farmers?

Why does he go to bed at night trying to figure out how to increase farmers? How do the President and other cabinet members view Vilsack’s role as the nation’s farming czar? What could be the most important contribution that increasing farmers could offer to the nation? Better food? Better soil development? Better care for animals? Better care for plants?

Are you ready? Here’s his answer: although rural America only has 16 percent of the population, it gives 40 percent of the personnel to the military. Say what? You mean when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, the bottom line — you know all the cliches — the whole reason for increasing farms is to provide cannon fodder for American imperial might. He said rural kids grow up with a sense of wanting to give something back, and if we lose that value system, we’ll lose our military might.

So folks, it all boils down to American military muscle. It’s not about food, healing the land, stewarding precious soil and resources; it’s all about making sure we keep a steady stream of youngsters going into the military. This puts an amazing twist on things. You see, I think we should have many more farmers, and have spent a lifetime trying to encourage, empower, and educate young people to go into farming. It never occurred to me that this agenda was the key to American military power.

Lest I be misread, I am not opposed to defending family. I am not opposed to fighting for sacred causes. But I am violently opposed to non-sacred fighting and meddling in foreign countries, and building empires. The Romans already tried that and failed.

But to think that my agenda is key to building the American military — now that’s a cause for pause. I will redouble my efforts to help folks remember why we need more farmers. It’s not to provide cannon fodder for Wall Street imperialistic agendas. It’s to grow food that nourishes, husband land that’s aesthetically and aromatically sensually romantic, build soil, hydrate raped landscapes, and convert more solar energy into biomass than nature would in a static state. I can think of many, many righteous and noble reasons to have more farms. Why couldn’t Secretary Vilsack have mentioned any of these? Any?

No, the reason for more farms is to make sure we get people signing up at the recruitment office. That’s the way he sees me as a farmer. Not a food producer. When the president and his cabinet have their private confabs, they don’t see farmers as food producers, as stewards of the landscape, as resource leveragers. No, they view us as insurance for military muscle, for American empire-building and soldier hubris. Is this outrageous? Do I have a right to be angry? Like me, this raw and bold show of the government’s farming agenda should make us all feel betrayed, belittled, and our great nation besmirched.

Perhaps, just perhaps, really good farms don’t feed this military personnel pipeline. I’d like to think our kind of farming has more righteous goals and sacred objectives. Vilsack did not separate good farmers from bad farmers. Since we have far more bad farmers than good ones, perhaps the statistic would not hold up if we had more farmers who viewed the earth as something to heal instead of hurt, as a partner to caress instead of rape. That America’s farms are viewed by our leaders as just another artery leading into military might is unspeakably demeaning and disheartening.

Tragically, I don’t think this view would change with a different Democrat or Republican. It’s entrenched in the establishment fraternity. Thomas Jefferson, that iconic and quintessential agrarian intellectual, said we should have a revolution about every half century just to keep the government on its toes. I’d say we’re long overdue.

Now when you see those great presidentially appointed cabinet members talking, I just want you to think about how despicable it is that behind the facade, behind the hand shaking and white papers, in the private by-invitation-only inner circles of our country, movers and shakers know axiomatically that farms are really important to germinate more military personnel. That no one in that room with Terry McAuliffe, none of those Virginia farm leaders, even blinked when Vilsack said that is still hard for me to grasp. They accepted it as truth, probably saying “Amen, brother” in their hearts. True patriots, indeed.

It’ll take me awhile to get over this, and believe me, I intend to shout this from the housetops. I’ll incorporate in as many public speeches as I can because I think it speaks to the heart of food and farming. It speaks to the heart of strength and security; which according to our leaders comes from the end of a gun, not from the alimentary canal of an earthworm. Here’s to more healthy worms.

— Joel Salatin, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    I see this in my own hometown. Young men and women that don’t feel like they’re college material and don’t want to commute half an hour to an hour to work in a factory see only one option…if they have ambition at all.

  2. says

    It’s very scary the way some folks look at things. Even scarier when they’re the ones making the decisions.
    I care about styrofoam (as in: we should be using less of the toxic stuff). As for why soft drinks and no water, I think that’s simply the way Those In Power think. Must promote the sugary crap that keeps people in jobs. “Water is free” — that’s anti-American commie talk.

  3. Piyush says

    The link to “40 percent of the personnel..” is not resolving to the intended one it seems but some other article. I read this on and came back here to report (link problem on both this one and the reposting)

  4. Joel Codey says

    I found people passing this article around FB, where I found it which is good to see. I was a bit surprised that most of the few comments here barely even mention the root content, so I’m here to thank and encourage you- thank you for seeing the illness in our govnmt farming officials, and for getting this out to the people. All people should be close to the source of their food, appreciate the land and natural processes, and getting back to the roots. Did Vilsack not mention a word about GMO’s or bee colony collapse or dangerous pesticides or organic what in our food might be contributing to cancer? He just talked about farms as being where the military (Wall Street) farms it’s humans for war? What the hell are those people in Washington thinking? Maybe it’s something in their diet poisoning their brains… Hmmm… Styrofoam, soda and chips anyone?

    Great publication- thank you!

  5. Auntiegrav says

    The cannon fodder aspect is important, but it’s only the one of the products our kids are extracted and packaged as. The problem is that capitalism is an Extraction Pyramid Scheme. Our kids are taught that they have to go to school to get jobs to move away in order to be validated by fame and fortune in this consumer system. If they do poorly in school, they might get jobs at a small company locally, but will never be ‘important’. Far be it from a school counselor to tell a SMART kid to become a farmer or a plumber or a mechanic in the local community and build something useful locally.
    It isn’t the Roman empire we need to worry about following: they built roads, spread knowledge and information, and worked to some degree with local rulers. We are following the Spanish empire: extracting gold (black gold) and using it to buy everything we want as a nation (including food extraction by foreign slaves), and the process is making us stupid and lazy. The people of the Spanish empire forgot how to provide for themselves and when they ran out of gold to extract, they were back in the stone age.
    It’s like you said: we have to take care of the dirt and the worms and the land so that it takes care of us. The Republicans want to extract everything to become rich, and the Democrats want to help them become rich so they can extract money from the Republicans.
    There is no generosity going on there. We don’t need them, but blaming our government is only part of the process. The government does what people vote for: and people are voting thousands of times every minute at the cash registers of Empire. They are voting for more stuff to be extracted. They will continue to vote for more extraction until they can’t (the money or the stuff runs out).
    The rich get richer and the poor get poorer because the poor work for them and buy their stuff.

  6. says

    Well said, Joel & Joel. Thought provoking while disgusting at the same time. Why do we have so many deceases increasing in numbers? Until 5 years ago, I had met no one with ALS. Now this dread disease has touched two people I know, and the dozens of lives THEY touched. Our local organic farms (Like new Life farm in Boone NC) are the best source of foods. I am far from a health nut and don’t eat many vegetables, but i think that;s because i had no idea of how good they can taste when they are hormone and poison free. We need more farms not fewer farmers. I run at the sight of a worm, but my husbands relatives are faremers in PA, and they have come from a long line of farmers and homesteaders. So I have atiny bit of the farmers struggles. A tiny bit. And though i hate to put a dollar sign on the subject, we need to financially support the farmers as much (percentage wise) as we do the military. Duh! When i pick up foods the first thing i check is where it is bottled, processed or shipped from. SO FAR, I feel better about USA foods than anything foreign. But if our farms and farmers have to resort to shortcuts from loss of workers and farmland to make enough of a profit to survive, where are we headed in this country do you think? This article both enlightened and disgusted me. I do now have a sense of what i need to do and that is to make myself heard via letters to DC….again! Thanks for the enlightening article.

  7. speaking my mind says

    My unrelenting critique of the US Farmocracy (is that word mine or partially mine in the case that I haven’t heard it before but it already exists?) stems from a deep-seated instinct to remove all trust from these systems of sustaining life by global trade and global masters of stimulus response efficiency. I’m on the plantation and have some thoughts regarding the neocolonial slavery. Even if our petro-based agriculture could sustain us 500 years more, will the integrity of our genes hold up with such high calories and low nutrition? Cancers Etc. are legion. Diabetes may leave a hundred million dependent should we not posit adjustments to technique. Autism may be 1 in 10 by the time I’m an old man. The farmacratic and pharmacratic serpentine belt has slithered in unannounced and unlabeled, of course. We’re allowing the “privatizing wealth and socializing costs” crowd to create deep cashflow problems for our progeny and our older selves, should we be so fortunate. My client today mentioned that the poor are the class in the US who feel entitled. What I didn’t have a chance to say was that, yes, many poor people grow comfortable in their subsidized poverty. And I didn’t chance to say that our upper echelon corporate class has manipulated the entire machine of federal government and often state and local machinery. What I wanted to say was that we have a crisis of culture, that rich, middle, or poor, the low moral class has its way with common and ordinarily considerate people. Global biology does not belong to the human species. The antiquity of combining some Abrahamic faith (and/or her hard driving post-protestant work ethic) with corporatism has lost its chair at the table. Earth is finite. And we aren’t acting like it.

  8. Lidia says

    They say an army runs on its stomach. Today’s Army gets a/c in the desert and TACO BELL. So it’s not like they are feeding the luncheon-goers anything less wholesome than our sainted Freedom Fighters are getting’, which is: GMO corn and pink slime. U! S! A! U! S! A!

  9. Freeborn says

    And there was me thinking the US was one huge bread-basket!

    Hell, no, not any more all the farmers have been signed up for the next Israel-sponsored war.

    Those goy farmers just ain’t woken up yet!

  10. Methos says

    De Re Militari (Latin “Concerning Military Matters”) was written in the late 4th/early 5th century Western Roman Empire by Vegetius (Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus). It’s about Roman warfare and military principles and how to use those methods that were in use during the height of Rome’s power, and responsible for that power. Vegetius proposed using those methods and principles to reform and rebuild the Roman military to its former might. It became the textbook for how to build and train an army for the next millennium. One of his recommendations was to recruit farmers, and not city dwellers, because farmers were already in shape, used to hard work, and could endure harsh conditions. Looks like the political class is learning from history after all.

  11. Sentinel1791 says

    I first heard this story from Jack Spirko’s and sent this story to a news/opinion website,, since I have seen that site host stories like this one before — the kind of stories that somehow “fall through the cracks” with the mainstream media of all stripes (CNN, NBC, Fox, everything). I hope they contact y’all (or if y’all could contact them) and can help you with “shouting [this] from the rooftops.”

  12. GusFarmer says

    At the linked article, Vilsack really shows his blindness: ““Our short-term threat is we don’t have enough people to do the work that needs to be done on farms and in processing plants,” he said. “We have had a broken immigration system for years, and it threatens the survival of agriculture. The nation needs comprehensive immigration reform that addresses agricultural jobs. We have food rotting because we don’t have the work force we need. If we don’t address this issue, we will end up seeing agribusiness moving operations elsewhere.”
    Yes, we need more people to do the work of farming. How about retraining some of the 15-20% of the working age population who has fallen off the unemployment radar screen to do it? Oh, wait. Can’t do that. They’re citizens and might actually expect to make a decent wage, so let’s bring in more people we can threaten with deportation to work for peanuts.
    His last statement is nothing but outright blackmail on behalf of giant ag. Tell those dirtbags we WANT them to go elsewhere so they stop poisoning our land, food supply and government! But before they do, we need to change local zoning regs and the pro-lawn attitudes of upper-class wannabes so that everyone can grow food at home without ridiculous permit requirements or lots of acres. It’s time we prioritized local food over suburbia and big biz.

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