Farmer/cartoonist fired for holding mirror to Big Ag


farmer cartoon

Rick Friday is a farmer and a cartoonist. Farming is his muse or at least it was his muse until he he poked Big Ag in the eye with a recent cartoon.

The cartoon as described in the NY Times story on his firing:

The cartoon shows two farmers, in overalls and skewed baseball caps, chatting at a fence.

“I wish there was more profit in farming,” one farmer says.

“There is,” the other replies. “In year 2015 the C.E.O.s of Monsanto, DuPont, Pioneer and John Deere combined made more money than 2,129 Iowa farmers.”

After 21 years drawing more than 1,000 cartoons at his kitchen table after milking his cows, Farm News fired Rick.  A “seed company” pulled its advertising dollars from the publication and Rick was gone and his editor reprimanded.

Rick announced his firing on Facebook:

I am no longer the Editorial Cartoonist for Farm News due to the attached cartoon which was published yesterday. Apparently a large company affiliated with one of the corporations mentioned in the cartoon was insulted and cancelled their advertisement with the paper, thus, resulting in the reprimand of my editor and cancellation of It’s Friday cartoons after 21 years of service and over 1090 published cartoons to over 24,000 households per week in 33 counties of Iowa.

I did my research and only submitted the facts in my cartoon.

That’s okay, hopefully my children and my grandchildren will see that this last cartoon published by Farm News out of Fort Dodge, Iowa, will shine light on how fragile our rights to free speech and free press really are in the country.

Marion Nestle offers this action step on her post on the events:

How to help? Consider a quick note to Farm News about how badly Americans need a free, independent press to discuss farm issues.

Here’s the publisher’s contact information:

Larry Bushman

Answering to the nearsighted overlord of quarterly profits

Honestly, I don’t think any action will right this wrong other than elevating Rick’s voice and the plight of many farmers who are working harder to make less. Follow Rick on Facebook.

This story hits me in two sensitive areas: 1) As a writer, journalist, and someone who works in publishing; 2) As a rural American.

I write and speak about industries with loads of money: the clothing and food industries. I’ve pitched articles critical of these industries to publications that receive advertising dollars from these same industries. Publishers may try to explain that they give editors freedom to operate without thinking of advertising. But that’s absolutely not the world we live in today. And it’s depressing.

That’s why I feel that public media (NPR, PBS, etc.) and foreign media outlets (BBC, Al Jazeera) need to fill in the gaps of our media diet. 

Whether Big Ag or Big Media, both answer to the nearsighted overlord of quarterly profits. People and planet aren’t factored in. There are no room in either for an Iowan farmer who has been drawing cartoons since he was a kid, who is wondering why he is getting paid less while the companies he supports as a customer are getting paid more.

In Where Am I Eating? I shared one of my favorite quotes on agriculture from writer Bill McKibben: “What’s the purpose of agriculture to grow food or grow money?”

We could ask a similar question about media.

What’s the purpose of media to inform or to sell ads? To educate or to make money?  

When it comes to the food or media we consume, each of us needs to examine what we are being fed.

William Keith Hardy says:

I grew up on an Iowa farm in the 1950’s – 60’s. Even then, it was clear that it wasn’t the farmers who made the most money — who supported themselves and their families the best — from their farming efforts, but the people who sold seed and fertilzers and chemicals to the farmers, then bought-low, sold-high, all the things that the farmers’ labors produced. And farmers aren’t at all in a position to hold out on selling their products while waiting for a better price. Their products can become unsellable in a very short time.
As Mr. Friday points out in his cartoon, it’s big companies that are carrying on that formula. The best solution that I’ve thought of for farmers is to concentrate on farming in organic ways, and selling to and through organic markets. The prices there can usually be counted on to be arrived at in fairness, and people are usually glad to pay for agricultural products that haven’t had their natural nutrition and flavor tampered with.

Kelsey says:

My dad grew up on a farm. They grew corn and raised, hogs, guineas, cows, turkeys, etc. Farming has become much more specialized. Farmers are specializing more now when it comes to crops and livestock and few of them are in the business of both raising animals and growing crops. In 1900 three-quarters of farms raised chickens, milk cows, cattle, and hogs, but today less than five percent of farms raise all four. And the ones that do raise animals no longer raise them in barns, but Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). My grandpas’ hogs lived in a sort of lean-to half-barn, but now hogs are raised in thousand-foot-long buildings with automated feeders and fans.

Often when we question the ways of the agriculture industry they hold up small farmers to shield them from criticism. Each day more farmers like Friday are asking tough questions.

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Let your voice be heard!