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Friday, March 30, 2012

A Farmer Ploughed Under by Debt

NOTE: This is a cross-post between James David Audlin's two blogs, "A Writer in Panama" ( and "Ranting the Truth, not Gassing Political Platitudes" (

In Santa Rosa, a quiet village well away from the highways and cities, I visited a farm specializing in milk, rice, and platanos. It is a lovely, quiet place, owned and operated by the same family for generations, is spread out over vividly green hills as full of life a new mother’s breasts, with occasional copses of trees.

I was introduced to the owner, a man in his sixties. His sharply observant eyes were set in a face hardened and lined by weather. His feet stood on the earth the way trees do. He showed us around not with pride but with an unspoken confidence: he didn’t have to convince me that the farm was well-managed because he knew this as well as he knew his own name. He felt no need to hear the polite pompous approbation of a foreigner who probably knows nothing about farming, but like all gringos thinks he knows everything about everything, better than these ignorant Panamanians.

So I was ignored. He went on to discuss with family members the high cost of milking machines, which he said he needs to purchase somehow if he’s going to stay in business. The conversation, in rapid Spanish, was rather technical, with a lot of facts and figures. These people knew their subject; these weren’t ignorant, foolish farm folk, as some people from the urbanized United States might think but sharp-thinking, well-informed agriculturalists. I followed the conversation going on around me as if I weren’t there, and then I offered my own comments.

“It’s similar in the United States,” I told the farmer in Spanish. “Gigantic megafarms, run by huge corporations, are dumping huge amounts of cheap rice and milk on the market in the Northeast and other states. As a result, small farmers in those states are going bankrupt, and their farms being turned into suburban developments or shopping malls. And then, just as soon as these corporations have all the customers to themselves, the prices go up again.”

His eyes widened at my words. I had surprised him, and he was surprised, moreover, that a gringo could surprise him.

To his unspoken question I explained that for a decade, while I was editing the opinion page for a daily newspaper in upstate New York, I wrote editorials expressing considerable concern about dead and dying small to midsized farms. I told him that what local farmers told me as an editor cohered with my personal observations in the north of the state; the farms that had been active when I was a boy are now dusty meadows of weeds, repossessed years ago by the lending institutions.

“It’s the same thing here,” the farmer replied, speaking to me with appreciation and respect in his tone; he knew now that I was not just another ignoramus from the United States blissfully unaware of the damage that country is doing to his. “The same corporations are dumping milk and rice and other farm products on the Panamanian market. The prices are so low that the supermarkets eagerly buy, and we local farmers can’t possibly match those prices.”

“In the United States,” I went on, “farms usually produce much more in tax revenues per acre than they take in public services, such as fire and police protection. In other words, they help keep taxes down. On the other hand, the cost of public services for residential developments and shopping malls are generally higher than what they pay in taxes. The result is that taxes go up as a result of development. But government officials always seem to think the way to cover the shortfall is to authorize more development.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “And typically they, or their friends, are the rich businessmen who benefit from such development.”

This farmer was far from unique; farms are going under throughout Panamá and Central America, and his face reflected his awareness of that fact. He looked around at his beautiful land. His expression was different now; it was as if he could see his farm, too, like the ones in my memory, already subdivided, already covered with houses to sell to expatriate gringos coming to Panamá, eager to buy the good life at lower rates. Or it might be his inward eyes saw here no more than blowing fields, the barn and farmhouse falling in, decay everywhere. One way or the other, it was just a matter of time.

“And what,” he asked rhetorically – not asking me, just asking, “do people think they are going to eat when there are no more farms?”

There wasn’t much I could say to him. We both – as well as his family members – understood each other. We could only nod at each other, sadly. It was no balm for him to meet a citizen of the very country responsible for his woes and find out that his colleagues in that country were also suffering, in the same way, and for the same reason.

As for me, it was painful to hear again in Panamá the same story I’ve heard all my life. The new sorrow to me, and I told him this, was that I had thought those corporation megafarms were only destroying small farms in the United States and Canada; I hadn’t realized on what a global scope their depradations are wreaking havoc.

<><><><><> James David Audlin has released a new book this week! It is "The Book of Dreams", listed below....


James David Audlin’s novel "Rats Live on no Evil Star" and the nonfiction book "The Circle of Life" (the complete edition, unlike the shortened version published six years ago) are available in HARDCOVER at:


Sixteen of his books are now available in E-Book format (Kindle, Nook, etc.) at this website. L'un de ses romans est disponible en français, y una de sus novelas está disponible en español.


The same sixteen books are available in uniform, meticulously copyedited and designed, softcover editions as follows. (Unfortunately, there is no single link for the following.)

Across the Silence: Poems of James David Audlin
The Circle of Life: A Memoir of Traditional Native American Teachings
Rats Live on no Evil Star (novel)
All You Need (novel)
Undr (novel)
Seven Novels of the Last Days Volume I: The Voice of Day
Seven Novels of the Last Days Volume II: The Wings of the Morning
Seven Novels of the Last Days Volume III: The Productions of Time
Seven Novels Of The Last Days Volume IV: A Mirror Filled With Light
Seven Novels of the Last Days Volume V: A Stitch in Time
Seven Novels of the Last Days Volume VI: The Stars Blindly Run
Lives of the Saints (stories)
Mooreeffoc: Stories from This World (stories)
The Other: Stories from Elsewhere (stories)
The Book of Dreams: that came to James David Audlin (dreams)

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