During the week of Thanksgiving I picked up a book at our law firm called “Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World”. The book, written seven years ago, was about to be thrown out. I picked up the book because it was about agriculture and farming.
Little did I realize it was a book by a farmer from Decatur, IL.
The first story is about a farmer with 1,500 acres buying equipment from the Sloan Implement Company in Assumption, IL. At this point I was hooked because I too have visited Sloan. The title of the book comes from a quote of a speaker at Sloan’s. “If you’re pretty healthy and you’re like most farmers you’re probably only going to do this about 40 times.”
The farmer I am discussing indicated he never thought about farming some 40 times. He thought to himself there are no “do overs” in the game of farming.
No typical path to farming
The book’s author did not grow up on a farm although he did grow up in the Midwest. His path to being a fulltime farmer was not typical given his family background in Nebraska. Like a lot of young men, he was restless and unfocused, but he always loved dirt. In fact, he said in the book that he often ground the knees of his blue jeans into “a filthy oblivion.”
When he visits a farm in other parts of the world the first act is get on his knees and grab a fistful of dirt. As he says, he has come to know what is different between dirt and soil. He says in his book, “I consider myself first and foremost a farmer. I am never happier than when I’m sitting in a tractor or combine during planting or harvest season.”
Like a lot of young men at age 18 he did not want to go to college and after a year, he decided that was not his strength. Initially our farmer wanted to get into the construction field and called one of his friends who told him “Kid, you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. You wouldn’t last five minutes with my union guys. Get the hell out of my office.”
The author was a “…relentless advocate of better soil management…” This farmer not only farms his 1,500 acres close to Decatur but has visited hundreds of farms and farmers around the world.
The book is full of stories regarding food and building soil.
The plight of poor farmers
This farmer notes that there are literally millions of smallholder farmers around the world who cannot generate enough food to feed themselves and their families. He points out that approximately 90% of the African farmers are what can be called “fragile.” They do not have any farm equipment, large herds of cattle or hogs, and clearly do not have the storage we see across the American Midwest.
Many of these farmers are 6th, 7th, or 8th generation and are committed to do things a certain way. This generally means wearing out the soils, engaging in no conservation tillage, and certainly not selling off a surplus to help their families.
Our farmer came from a well-known family and went to work for ADM in Decatur. There he was introduced to Marty Andreas, a board member friend of mine (now deceased) on the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Foundation (IALF). While working for ADM he was introduced to the idea of biodiversity. This farmer learned that biodiversity was important, particularly when disease, infestation or viruses impact the poor farmers of the world.
This farmer has had the good fortune of having the ability to travel and change farming for millions. The book I am recommending you all read is his story from Decatur, IL and the rest of the world. The book could use a good editor, but it is worth reading about agriculture and farmers’ impact on society around the globe.
All farmers reading this blog also may want to read this book.
Maybe by now you have guessed the name of this farmer? The author in question is Howard G. Buffett. The book’s foreword is written by his father, Warren Buffett. Pick up a copy here.