Looks like the drought of farmer-presidents will persist
With the presidential election coming around all too soon, candidates are darting around like trout fry in shoal water. Being from Missouri, I am hoping one of them will Show Me a shiny side I can pick out and identify with. So far, if I were fishing for a farm-raised specimen, I’m out of luck.
Not for the first time, I should add. Out of 44 presidents, only five had any farming history, and George Washington, our first, called himself a “planter,” not a farmer. Meaning I guess that he didn’t mind planting cotton, but was way too busy to pick it, what with the British and all.
James Madison was the next one to farm, and he really worked at it, harvest and all, until the neighbors pestered him into politics. They said a land this big needed somebody who remembered it was mostly dirt, making him qualified to run the place.
We had to wait a bunch of years for the next farm-raised president, U.S. Grant, who, like Washington, only got the job because of his war sense, which unlike George’s didn’t help him much. He was noted for appreciating corn more than planting it.
The country had to wait a long time for another president who had actually put a plow in the ground; Harry Truman who came home from WWI to help his daddy farm for ten years before he opted for making a living instead. One of the many things Harry is remembered for was his plain speech, (probably learned from his years of reasoning with mules) and his farmer-direct way of dealing with first one crisis then another.
Washington D.C. held few surprises for a man accustomed to Missouri weather.
By the time we got to Jimmy Carter, our affable peanut farmer from Georgia, the country was beyond using his kind of expertise. Farming itself had to be explained to city children who thought cows were milk machines on Sesame Street, soybeans were grown in the land of Soy (where everyone has three eyes), and all vegetables, including corn, came from California, grown by a green giant.
Jimmy didn’t stand a chance. I firmly believe it’s because he refused to go on TV wearing a peanut suit, top hat and a monocle and twirling his cane, which would have impressed everybody. A real president in the show (and tell) biz.
Meanwhile, I’d still like to try another farmer. They deal with basic values, and are experienced with money problems. They are used to fence mending and have learned to cope with bureaucratic thinking and delays. They understand both pig and bull-headedness, and will (best of all) listen to advice when it's honest.
And it wouldn’t hurt a bit if, like George Washington, they’d take the time to listen to the hounds now and then. It would be handy to have critters around you who kept to the trail and mainly told you the truth.
From November 2007. Mitch Jayne 1928-2010 was a celebrated Ozark author and long-time contributor to Today’s Farmer. We reprint this in his honor.