"The Successful Farmer"


Before I get into my sermon proper – that is, reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the Rich Farmer that Gene Bacon read for us – I want to remind us that an “industrialized economy” with consumer goods and services such as we enjoy here in Alpena, was not the norm anywhere in the world, prior to the Industrial Revolution.

From about 3,000 B.C.E. (when animals were domesticated and people first started to use the plow) right up until the Industrial Revolution (about 1800 A.D.), the world’s economies were “agrarian” – that is, “agricultural”- based systems… rural farming was the economic powerhouse… with village-life as the base of the economy.

As I said to Dick Bloom just last Sunday: “Farming is everybody’s bread and butter!” Most folks eat food grown on farms. But why should I talk about the essentially “agrarian” base of our economy? Isn’t Alpena more modern than that?

I mean, yes, we are in a “rural” area… but aren’t we “Michiganders” more technologically-advanced and industrialized, than we are agrarian? Isn’t our basic U.S. economy consumer-based? Buying & selling, retail marketing… advertising, investing… you know, producing stuff for stores and for Amazon-dot-com “on-line” buying? Isn’t that what makes America great!? Our economy – measured by Wall Street, and regulated by the Federal Reserve; our G.D.P. (gross domestic product) and investment in industry… that’s what’s reported. Growth counts! We’ve got the highest standard of living and the biggest economy in the world (China comes second and that’s why we’re in a race against them).

If you think that way -- or feel that way -- the statistics of American “prosperity” are with you! Most folks in America are not farmers, and (as a result) give little thought to agriculture. The “agrarian” sector of the economy is mostly ignored, and for good political reason.

The rural regions of our country hardly even count in the national Census data! We are so sparsely populated compared to urban areas… There are too few voters with agrarian roots to off-set the big money of Wall Street and the urban areas, and the CEO’s of financial institutions and big corporations. That’s where the money is… where influence is! That’s who the politicians pander to. You’ve heard of the “new” Golden Rule: “The one whose got the gold makes the rules.”

Since today’s text is a story from Jesus about a successful farmer, I decided to look up the Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract of America’s work-force and found out that (in the last Census, in 2010) there were a total of 751,000 farmers and ranchers in the United States. (!) 751,000 farmers and ranchers are providing food for 330 million Americans… plus surplus corn that is being made into ethanol fuel, as well as a tremendous amount of food that is exported around the world. It’s amazing what those 751,000 folks have been able to produce! Bravo!

751,000 people are only ½ of one percent of America’s workforce. All the farm-owners, farm-workers, and ranchers in America combined are only one-half of 1% -- 0.05% of all employed Americans! That’s hardly a drop in the bucket for demographic purposes… such as for representation in the houses of Congress… or for impact on Wall Street investors. American agriculture has become almost inconsequential in the thinking of our national economic theorists, or for the Federal Reserve to consider, let alone does farming influence US trade policies.

But growing food on farms is (ultimately) the true basis of our – and every – economy. Without a successful agrarian sector, people starve.