Farming isn’t easy
Patrick McKelvey | Friday, February 28, 2020
I have never — ever — planted anything. Not a tree. Not a flower. Not a tomato. I don’t think I’ve ever even been to a farm. And I don’t really want to try and go. Not because I don’t think it’s worthwhile, or because I don’t think it would be fun. Farms are beautiful — the rolling hills, the open fields. I don’t want to try because farming looks really, really hard.
I grew up outside New York City. I’ve spent most of my life there. And in a few months I’m moving there full time. They don’t really grow things in New York. There’s a few parks, sure. But almost nothing in the way of arable land. I am willing to bet that almost every New Yorker has no idea how to farm. But a more famous resident thinks we could learn.
Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York City for three terms from 2002 to 2013. He’s currently seeking the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. Thus far, he has not won any delegates.
Since his entry into the race, he has been widely criticized. Some have argued his net worth — over $60 billion — should automatically disqualify him. When income inequality is one of the major issues on the Democratic ticket, putting up one billionaire to face the current presidential billionaire would seem indecorous, they charge. In Feb. 19’s Democratic debate, former Vice President Joe Biden reminded the audience of the Bloomberg administration’s “Stop-and-Frisk” policy, which allowed NYPD officers to detain, question and search civilians on the streets without a warrant. A U.S. District Court ruled the method led to racial profiling and violated New Yorkers’ Fourth Amendment rights. Sen. Elizabeth Warren brought up former Bloomberg female employees’ allegations of sexism. He replied that “none of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told.”
But what’s vexing me most about Mayor Bloomberg happened last election cycle. Recently, Wisconsin Republican official Anna Kelly shared a clip of Bloomberg speaking at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School in Nov. 2016. While answering a question about the role of entrepreneurs in addressing income inequality, Bloomberg said, in part:
“We just — more and more, if you think about it, the agrarian society lasted 3,000 years, and we could teach processes. I could teach anybody — even people in this room, no offense intended — to be a farmer. … You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn. You could learn that. Then you have 300 years of the industrial society. You put the piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in the direction of the arrow and you can have a job. [At] one point, 98% of the world worked in agriculture, today it’s 2%, in the United States. Now comes the information economy. And the information economy is fundamentally different because it’s built around replacing people with technology, and the skill sets that you have to learn are how to think and analyze. And that is a whole degree level different. You have to have a different skill set, you have to have a lot more gray matter.”
It should be noted that Kelly shared the four-year-old clip with partisan intentions, of course — but that doesn’t make her characterization of the remarks as “demeaning, elitist and out-of-touch” any less accurate. Bloomberg grew up in a middle-class family just outside Boston before moving to New York. He attended Johns Hopkins and Harvard, where he undoubtedly worked very hard. And his work ethic likely only improved as he amassed his billions. But he has spent his entire life in cities. He has no idea how to farm anything, and his assumption that farming is as simple as “digging a hole” has no basis in logic and demonstrates a, frankly, bizarre disconnect from one of the most fundamentally human professions. To say those who work with technology have more “gray matter” than their agricultural counterparts is not only laughable, it creates a false dichotomy. Modern farming is incredibly complex. Tractor cabs look more like plane cockpits than they do car dashboards. Farming is both physical labor and technological skills.
It’s not the first time Bloomberg has shown a craven disregard for the working class. In 2002, when MTA workers threatened to strike and shut down the subway weeks before Christmas, the mayor bought a $500 bike and paraded around the city, in an effort to say New York could get on without the subway and the employees that keep it going. Of course, he forgot that most New Yorkers can’t afford such a bike, nor do they have the time to travel everywhere by bicycle. More importantly, he told the MTA employees the city that depends on them really doesn’t need them at all: According to their own mayor, they were dispensable.
As Bloomberg states, just 2% of Americans work in agriculture; 2% of Americans feed the other 98%. They toil in dirt through storm and drought and blight and climate change and soil depletion. They understand the value of hard work and physical labor just as well as they understand computing software and technology. It’s an unfortunate fact that some of the most important Americans — the ones who grow our food and build our cities and run our trains — are the most forgotten. They deserve so much more than they’re given — and the last thing they deserve is to belittled by billionaires.
Patrick McKelvey splits his time between being a college senior and pretending to be a screenwriter. He majors in American studies and classics and will be working in market research in New York after graduating. If you can’t find him at the movies, he can be reached for comment at [email protected] or @PatKelves17 on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.