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Schumer’s Promises Are as Empty as Farmers’ Pockets

Letter to the Editor

  • Jan 14, 2020 Updated Jan 14, 2020


Last week, while I readied myself for work the day before Christmas Eve, I watched Sen. Chuck Schumer on the local morning news. He was announcing his latest proposed legislation while standing at a family farm in Washington County, New York.

The cows were clean, the farm was tidy, and Mr. Schumer trumpeted his latest “great work” while using farming — our area’s latest “cool thing” — as a backdrop, and the farmers and animals as his props.

It was political theater at its finest.

This legislation would reserve $3 million of taxpayer dollars to fund what Schumer termed a bipartisan, three-pronged approach to depression and suicide among farmers. The three “prongs” are this:

• Require that the USDA offer voluntary stress management training for employees of organizations serving farmers in order to better identify mental health issues.

• A public awareness campaign to fund organizations that serve people in crisis.

• Require the secretary of agriculture to issue a statement on “best practices” for mental health on farms and ranches.

Now, there are those who will read that list and think, “this sounds great.” As the wife of a lifelong farmer (dairy, beef), I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

This isn’t help for the farmer — it’s help for the people who watch farms, and farmers, die. In fact, small family farms (defined by the USDA as a farm selling between $1,000 and $250,000 of products) are nearing extinction in our nation. In the 10 years between 2008 and 2018, nearly 20,000 family farms died in the United States. Small family dairy farms, in particular, are closing at a terrifying pace.

The policies Mr. Schumer helped put in place are the same policies causing the devastation to American dairy farms. The hypocrisy would be horrifying if anyone actually paid attention. The banner headline during that news segment said “Schumer Calls For Farmer Suicide Study.”

I hate to break it to him, but the studying has already been done. And really, all Mr. Schumer needs to do is look around his state to see it for himself. In fact, dairy farmers commit suicide at a rate that outpaces even military veterans. Statistics range from 1.5 to 3.5 times higher than the national average, depending on whom you ask.

It is so bad in dairy farming these days that inside the envelope containing the milk check payment there is also a suicide prevention letter. The implications for open space preservation, the nation’s food supply, clean air and water, and our personal well-being are dire.

Contrary to the litany spouted by anti-farming warriors, well-run and sustainable small farms contribute to a healthy ecosystem, nourishing food production (and resulting healthy bodies), and a strong economy.

That morning, looking out at the winter pasture, and watching my husband trudge up from the barn after the morning chores, it was difficult for me to reconcile these scenes with Mr. Schumer’s smug, Washington-polished face on the television.

In 2009 we met our senator when he made the rounds of upstate New York farming communities to explain why he failed to include New York dairy farmers in the famous “bailout bill.” What many don’t know is that farmers in every other leading dairy state in the nation received a piece of that monetary pie, but Mr. Schumer neglected to remember his state’s largest industry — dairy farming — when negotiating what his state would receive. Instead, New York dairy farmers were left high and dry while their counterparts in Wisconsin, Idaho, California and Texas received assistance to weather the bottom falling out of the milk market. This “apology tour” of Mr. Schumer, including flying in with his entourage on a helicopter, also paid for by taxpayers, was his attempt to appease the largest upstate industry and potential voters.

He promised us to our faces that he had a special “in” with then-Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. He promised us he would make us whole.

Instead, many of the people in the room that day ended up selling their cows, boarding up their barns, and selling their land to developers thirsty not for milk but for building lots because Mr. Schumer’s promises were as empty as the farmers’ pockets. There was lots of cash for clunkers, but for New York dairy farmers there was nothing.

While Washington politicians debate, argue, rehash and discuss, we continue to work on our farm. The fact is, our land would be far more financially productive if we sold it to a developer, but it is more precious to us than that. Our land feeds the animals we lovingly raise, and those animals produce nutritious, delicious food we contribute to our local economy. Farming is not merely an occupation. The family farm is employment, true, but it is also a home where families live and children grow up. It is everything to the people working and living there. To lose it is to literally lose everything, including one’s identity.

Farming is not what someone does. It’s who someone is.

The farmer I’m married to has his blood, sweat and tears invested in this land. His grandfather’s blood, sweat and tears are here, too. This land is his legacy to his children, and to his grandchildren.

Chuck Schumer should keep his $3 million “support” — a pittance in the grand Washington money scheme. Perhaps, instead, he should try promoting USMCA, which attempts to make more fair the playing field for American farmers (but surely doesn’t go far enough). He should try reinstating country-of-origin labeling so American consumers can again see where their food is produced and make an informed choice in the grocery store. He should instate policies that support American markets for American-grown food. He should remember that this nation was built on the backs of our farmers, who fed industrialists, laborers, and everyone in between. Farmers have fed the people who have grown a nation.

Mr. Schumer, if you ate today, pay a farmer what it cost to grow your food. Don’t pay to study him.

— Rebecca Collins Brooks

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Soak up the sun: Solar farms poised to proliferate in New York State

Rochester Democrat and ChroniclePublished 7:00 a.m. ET July 18, 2018 | Updated 11:14 a.m. ET July 18, 2018  

Powered by a state initiative to make renewable energy more accessible to consumers, commercial solar farms are looking to make big inroads in the Rochester area.