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Bishop's Column: Where does it hurt?

Posted: August 21 2019 at 10:17 AM

Bishop Dyck and Cabinet members visit the Bardell's 180-year old family farm in Freeport, IL during a day trip to hear from farmers who are struggling through a difficult growing season.

The Somali poet, Warsan Shire, wrote this as part a poem, “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon”:

later that night,
i held an atlas on my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered where does it hurt?
it answered everywhere

Every day we read, hear, see and experience the pain that injustice, violence, inequity, callousness, loss, and evil inflict upon people often by other people. Innocent people become collateral to larger dynamics at play. Sometimes it’s the result of natural disasters, but even those can experience the “pile on” of economic, political and social influences. “Everywhere” is here, even in our annual conference, and sometimes in places and situations we’re not mindful or aware of.

In August, the Cabinet and I went on a farm tour to learn and hear from some farmers in northern Illinois who have been affected by recent adverse weather conditions. We visited several different kinds of farms, including a family farm, a practicing organic farm, and an agritourism farm.

Many farmers have inherited the farm. In one case we heard about a farmer who grew up on a farm, but his father lost the land in the farm crisis of the early 1980s. Determined to be a farmer, he lived out of his car for a while, worked in the tool and dye industry, and slowly began to start farming full time. His farm is diversified with corn, soybeans, cattle, a few sheep, hay, and some other smaller crops. His tool and dye experience really pays off as he repairs many older machines. He has one newer combine which he indicated was rather expensive. When asked how expensive, he said, “$1.2 million.” He wasn’t keen on purchasing it a few years ago but there was little choice if he was to continue farming.

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Greg Miller (Center) and his wife Sheila (right) share their concerns about this year's growing season with Bishop Dyck on their farm in Freeport, IL.

This year has been particularly difficult because of the constant rain in the spring (roughly from April into June), which kept the crops from being planted, and then there was no rain in July. Fortunately, a good rain came mid-August. But much of the damage has been done. Now the only hope is that the fall will go late and be warm since an early frost will prevent the corn from fully maturing and being a quality that can be sold.

Even now as you drive by the cornfields, you see cornstalks almost to their usual height but they’re not fully maturing in many cases due to the weather and the late planting season. The hay crop was late, missing one whole cutting in the spring, and in addition to reducing the farmer’s income, this will affect dairy and cattle farmers due to the shortage of hay.

With this year’s weather patterns, farmers had to figure out what to do. Each farmer—no matter what kind of farm and how long they had been farming—commented on how they learned some things in terms of dealing with the effects of this year’s weather. They admitted to having made some mistakes as they “gambled” on what to do. Adaptation is needed. Doing things differently than they had done for years and years isn’t easy to do!

As we talked to one farmer, it was clear that depression is a reality for many. Suicide rates are high among farmers. Unfortunately, resources for mental health in some of the rural communities is scarce. The emotional strain is not just the financial pressure – although that is great. Even a small micro-grant of $500 from an organization for living expenses was greatly appreciated by one farmer as it took the edge off of daily living. It’s also the frustration of having built something from nothing or inheriting the family farm and then not being sure that there will be anything left after this year or another one like it. An extreme sense of failure and letting others down, such as parents and grandparents, is common.

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On the Miller farm, tractors are ready for harvest but it's uncertain what the yields will be following this year's adverse weather conditions.

Tears flowed along our farm tour. Hearts were heavy. What can you do? What can your church do? Two things. First, you can pray and raise awareness of the farm crisis in our conference and across the Midwest. It’s not always covered in the news, so calling for prayers in our congregations raises awareness about “where it hurts” in our own conference.

Second, you can give. On November 16, 2019, the Northern Illinois Annual Conference will hold a special session. A call letter will be coming out shortly. It will be held at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. You’ll drive by some cornfields to get there. More importantly, we will collect a special Bishop’s Appeal offering for the farm crisis. More information about how the money will be used will be available shortly, along with resources to better understand the situation.

Make a point of learning more about what hurts your neighbor, the farmer. We run our fingers across the map of our annual conference and ask where it hurts, knowing that it hurts in many places and many ways, such as gun violence and immigrants who are further oppressed by our nation’s lack of comprehensive immigration policies and other concerns. But let’s not overlook our farmers!

~Bishop Sally Dyck

Read more on the Bishop's tour of the farms.

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