Image of potatoes being held by a hand in a potato field

April 2023
The Lighter Side By Buzz Shahan, COO, United Potato Growers of America

Farmers are known for having good senses of humor; they like to smile and laugh.

President Calvin Coolidge (1872- 1933), and his wife, Grace, enjoyed a great relationship. One day during Coolidge’s presidency (1923-1929), he and Grace were touring a poultry farm, and Mrs. Coolidge remarked to the farmer that it was amazing that one rooster could fertilize so many eggs. The farmer told her that roosters do their job over and over again each day.

“Perhaps you could point that out to Mr. Coolidge,” she told the farmer with a smile — loud enough for the president to hear. The President, noting the remark, inquired whether the rooster serviced the same hen each time. “No,” the farmer told him. “The rooster gets to choose a different hen each time.”

Buzz Shahan, COO for UPGA
Buzz Shahan, COO for UPGA

“Perhaps you could point that out to Mrs. Coolidge,” the President said. Humor lightens things up. Difficult issues can often be couched in humor such that, even when one’s potato- producing region is the butt of a potato joke, no one takes offense. It’s hard to be angry through smiles and laughter.

Farmers are known for having good senses of humor; they like to smile and laugh. Farmers also like being close to Mother Earth. For centuries that closeness has balanced farmers’ worldview. A key aspect of a farmer’s world view is the desire to remain on the farm despite cruel weather, misguided governmental intervention and companion farmers over producing, glutting the market, and killing price.

Not long after the U.S. became independent, farmers who lived near big cities such as Boston and New York got together each morning before locals |came to the market to set price for that day’s produce. No matter where a housewife went to buy a potato, the price was the same.

This put a bee in the housewife’s bonnet, and she complained to her husband. The husband, wishing home to be a respite from daily strife, sought refuge beneath the law by complaining to Washington D.C., which responded with the Sherman Antitrust Act; farmers could not collectively set potato price.

About this same time, labor unions wished to collectively bargain to sell members’ labor to enterprises like railroads. To appease labor unions, Washington gave labor unions the right recently taken from farmers; labor could collectively bargain. With the hypocrisy too obvious to ignore, Washington fairly and finally included farmers, restoring the right to collectively bargain.

This is where humor comes in: Over time, labor out-lobbied farmers, and farmers gradually lost the right to collectively bargain while labor unions continue doing it every day. Stripped of legal protection, the option left to farmers is to voluntarily balance supply with demand to stabilize price. This allows the farmers to stay in business while supplying American families with low-cost, high-quality food.

Look at how wonderfully not having government involved in vegetable production has worked out for the farmer, and especially for the consumer. Stroll any produce aisle in any grocery store to know that this is true. Funny how things work out, isn’t it.

75 Applewood Dr. Ste. A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345


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