I remember hearing a friend complaining about the Amish once at a dinner party, saying in angry tones how "they don't pay taxes or fight for their country." I raised my eyebrow at this. The Amish do, of course, pay sale and income taxes (save Social Security, and then only for self-employed Amish for religious reasons) and are pacifists. They don't accept Social Security checks or Medicare and are morally against taking human life. Also, it is our own nation's laws that allow them to be exempt, so my friend's true beef should have been with his legislators, not "the plain folk." They are living their life both in accordance to the law and their faith. Their only fault is the lack of outsider approval, which frankly, they could care less about.
Unlike other pockets of the Amish in America, many of the faith in upstate New York are still farming. Land prices are cheap compared to Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the old abandoned dairy farms in the Adirondacks are being bought up and farmed by young Amish families starting new churches around the area. I wondered who this bitter complainer would expect to be growing their food in a time of serious and sacrificial war if all the young people on farms were drafted?
The average age of the American Farmer is 57+ years old, and they only make up 2% of the National Census. The only reason that average age is so high and the numbers so are low is because most conventional farmers use staggering amounts of gasoline, inputs, petroleum-based fertilizers, and giant gas-gurgling machines. God forbid we ever had a draft coincide with a fuel shortage, or sky-rocketing gas prices, because this model would become laughably unsustainable and downright terrifying.
Food would become scarce, very scarce. The average town's grocery store only contains enough food to sustain their local population with three days of food. And the average citizen does not keep a full larder or grow their own food as many Americans had in the past. The older farmers could not put in the physical effort to farm traditionally without fossil fuels, and the younger able-bodied would be off fighting to lower the price at the pump. If the current model of conventional farming could not sustain us, and the backup labor was gone, could you imagine how invaluable the skills and farms of the Amish would become? How invaluable any smaller, sustainable, grass-based farm would become?
It all comes down to the disconnection so many people have with their food right now. It is simply another cheap commodity, something that is just always there. You can do nothing buy nap all day and buy a hamburger for a dollar waiting for you, hot and ready to eat. The grocery stores, take-out menus, drive-ins -- all of it gets about as much reverence from the average American as the crumpled up gas receipts in their pockets.
We've become so irreverent towards food and farming that the purest and most unadulterated forms of agricultural communities are seen as irresponsible or shirking duties. We live in a country based on the freedoms of independence and religion, and the folks actually acting on them are considered cartoons in an otherwise "real" society. In an oil shortage teams of "cartoon draft horses" could save a town from starvation.
Here is my question for you, angry anti-Amish and non-farming contingent. Would you be willing to grow or raise your own food in a time of national emergency such as war? Do you even know how? If the answer to either (or both!) of those questions is no, then should the younger generations of sustainable farmers be exempt from a National Draft? I can't think of a more valuable piece of our social economy than the people growing healthy food. We would desperately need farmers less dependent on the crutches of mass inputs to feed us. I understand the importance and sacrifice of the soldiers, but who is going to feed them and their families if the world changed in ways we're not currently prepared to handle? Perhaps it is time to consider keeping the people serving their country food, in their country. It is not an act of cowardice, but an act of brave sense.
Jenna Woginrich is a farmer and author in upstate New York who blogs at Cold Antler Farm.
*Serve Your Country Food is the slogan of The Greenhorns, a national association of young famers.
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