Between the Rows: Self-Evident Truths

People just don’t understand a lot of things that are obvious to growers.

Published online: Jul 04, 2019 Articles, Between the Rows Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the July 2019 issue of Potato Grower.

Two hundred and forty-three years ago, a brilliant, redheaded Virginian named Thomas Jefferson put quill to parchment to articulate, in black and white, the frustrations he and his countrymen had felt for years. The most famous words contained in what is possibly the most famous letter ever written are, of course, these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Of course, that’s about all most of us remember from sophomore history with Mrs. Woodhouse. But a re-examination of the Declaration of Independence unearths a whole pile of truths that Jefferson and his colleagues thought should be obvious but which were, apparently, less evident to King George III. Among them:

  • “…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive … it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
  • People are typically “more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
  • George III was “unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”
  • When a government abuses its people, “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

As Americans, I think we have a tendency to view Jefferson’s term “self-evident” as meaning something akin to “precious” or “sacred.” Indeed, the Declaration has achieved a level of significance that can only be considered sacred. But as I recently read it again, I realized that when the Founders said “self-evident,” they were —at least in part—effectively saying to Britain, “Duh, of course this stuff’s true; what’s it gonna take to get it through your thick skulls?”

Viewed in that context, the rest of the document suddenly became much more relatable to me. All too often, it feels like being involved in production agriculture requires being at odds with politicians, mainstream media, consumers, even friends and neighbors. It’s easy to get frustrated when something that seems so obvious to us is so foreign to everyone else. You know, self-evident truths like:

Farmers are smart, educated people, and the ag industry is typically among the earliest adopters of emerging technologies.

Nothing smells better than freshly plowed dirt.

If you complain about rain in May, you’re sure to be begging for it in August.

The work really is the reward.

Diet Pepsi is its own distinct and essential food group, no matter what new nutrition guide chart the USDA decides to release.

Genetic engineering is meant to improve crops’ nutritional value, and to increase farms’ level of economic and environmental sustainability.

Family is paramount.

Wolves should never have been listed as endangered.

Making money at your job doesn’t make you a villain.

Potatoes are prettier with the dirt still on them.

Pickup trucks were never meant to be kept clean. If there’s not at least a little bit of mud caked on, you might as well have spent your money on a Cadillac.

John Deere tractors are the best.

No, Case is superior.

No, New Holland.

You get the idea. People who aren’t involved in farming just don’t get it most of the time. And that’s fine—until they start to act like to know a thing or two. When someone who has lived their whole life in a studio apartment in San Francisco or surrounded by a perfectly-manicured-by-the-hired-help lawn in Connecticut presumes to know how to grow seed potatoes in Montana better than a fourth-generation seed potato grower in Montana, that’s when we have a problem. It ain’t easy holding onto the belief that all men are created equal when some exhibit such obviously inferior critical thinking skills.

When this frustration mounts, we would do well to recall another bit of wisdom from Jefferson’s magnum opus: that drastic, war-like campaigns should not be undertaken “for light and transient causes.” In this battle for the hearts and trust of the public, we can’t simply throw up our hands and call them morons, no matter how effective their arguments may be in proving just that. It’s allies we need, and we simply can’t afford to play into the role of agricultural antagonists.

To be honest, I’m not too worried about it; the American farmer has proven capable for generations of handling any challenge thrown at him.

How’s that for a self-evident truth?