Feeling Guilty on a Day Off

By Cam Mather

I took the day off on Thursday and I was racked with guilt. Okay, maybe not “racked with guilt” but I was definitely feeling kind of guilty. Our youngest daughter came home for a long weekend so we picked her up at the train station in Belleville. We then headed to “Sandbanks Provincial Park” which is an awesome place. It has a 10 mile long sandy beach, and it sits at the very eastern end of Lake Ontario on a jut of land called “Prince Edward County” which extends out into the lake. The wind whips down the lake and by the time it hits the beach it often brings huge waves that are a blast to play in.

This area would also be a prime location for large wind turbines, but well-heeled city folk who vacation in the County don’t like the looks of wind turbines and have the financial resources to fight them, so the farmers who could really use the income from wind farms renting their land are denied it. I remember being at a meeting in 2003 when we first published “The Renewable Energy Handbook”. Bill Kemp had been asked to speak and you could tell there were two groups in the audience… those “for” big wind and those against it. I spoke to a farmer who told me “I’d be making $28,000 a year in rentals if it wasn’t for these (expletive deleted) protesting against them.” Here’s the problem – people want to use electricity, but they want it to be generated somewhere “else”. They want clean air rather than coal-powered contaminated air, as long as they don’t have to look at how it’s being generated. They want an inhabitable climate for their grandchildren as long is it doesn’t mean they have to learn to live with these big beautiful wonders called wind turbines that create clean electricity from a renewable resource.

As we drove to and from Sandbanks I was in awe of the crops growing in the fields of Prince Edward County. Corn, soy beans, oats, wheat… food in other words. We spent the afternoon frolicking in the waves with the thousands of other people on the beach, most of whom are urban dwellers and trade their labor for a wage that allows them to purchase the food the farmers grow. As we headed home at 7 pm there was a crew out harvesting wheat. We had seen the combine earlier in a different field and it was monstrous. I’m assuming the combine owner goes from field to field contracting with the farmer to harvest the wheat. I’m out of touch with the cost of farm equipment, but with the size of this behemoth I’m sure it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There was a hive of activity around the combine with many tractors and trucks and grain wagons “making hay while the sun shines.” Well they were actually making straw, which is what’s left over when you harvest wheat. The forecast for the next day was for rain so you could tell they would be working well into the night to get as much harvested as they could.

I was struck by the dichotomy of what I saw on the beach and what I saw in the field. People on the beach were desperately trying to find things to do – building sand castles, throwing Frisbees, footballs, and beach balls, and flying kites. Of course many people at the beach were content to just lay and roast in the sun and sew the seeds for their own personal melanomas in the years ahead.

Then there were farmers working feverishly to harvest food. I sensed that these farmers didn’t spend much time on the beach. I sometimes question whether or not people, like the ones playing on the beach, have enough gratitude for farmers. Now don’t get me wrong, farmers do have down time. In fact, depending on what they grow and produce some have extended periods when they can’t be growing and harvesting food. That was the nice thing about when most people were involved with agriculture, there was down time. Today many of the people on the beach might only have a week or two when they leave their jobs and relax. Livestock farmers experience that, because someone has to feed and milk and look after their animals everyday of the year.

But still, I had a tinge of guilt spending a day on the beach knowing someone wasn’t taking a day off so I could eat. I am eternally grateful to farmers.

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2 Responses to “Feeling Guilty on a Day Off”

  • Wow Neil! Those prices are even worse than I had imagined! The photo that I used wasn’t the exact combine that we were watching…. but the closest one that I could find on the ‘net.
    We are getting a taste of the insanity and unsustainability of farming ourselves. Our garlic is ready and we struggle to price it at a low enough point so that it will sell but high enough so that we aren’t giving it away. Even still, we recognize that if we were to add up the hours we’ve spent planting it, weeding it, watering it, pulling it up, bundling it, drying it and now trimming and cleaning it…. no wonder you can only find Chinese garlic in the grocery stores!

  • Neil B.:

    Your hard working farmer pictured is using a New Holland combine. The cheapest New Holland combine is the CR9040. List price on this combine is $305,486.50 plus an additional ~$13,000 for traction wheels and steering tires. However, you still haven’t bought the cutting head (combines are multi-purpose machines). In this case a “direct cut” head is pictured and looks like a 25 footer. This (cheaper head) retails for an additional $25,556.30 for a total of $344,964.40. (The top end combine model with a 35 foot head is around $500,000).
    The Case/International tractor is a 4 wheel drive. The cheapest series for this manufacturer is the U series Farmall. The 105U retails for $76,138.65.
    I can’t see the grain box type, but those boxes will generally run between $10,000 to as high as $35,000.

    Like you Cam, I really appreciate farmers! Knowing the above prices, I don’t know how they can survive the long term. These prices are not sustainably.

    Remember, farming is the only industry where they purchase their products (combines, tractors, etc) at “retail” and sell their products (milk, wheat, vegetables, beef, eggs, etc.) at “wholesale”…

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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