A Day Late and $28,100 Short

Dear Big Team,

It’s been a dogs age since I last seen you. I know I promised I’d write you regular, now that I’m out here on the farm in Washington, but I been busy. I can’t say whether the story of what’s happened to me out here on Wapato Farms is a good one, but I’ll tell’er just the same, since you ain’t heard from me in so long.

I came out here, I guess it had to be something like 13 years ago now. Back then I had nothing. Just 20 acres of land from Grandpa, 10 in grain and 10 in hay, a part-time job in town, and a $5,000 loan. Sure, the land is worth $40,000, but that’s not hardly enough for a man to really farm, is it? Heck if I saw $40,000 laying on the ground, I’d have to think awful hard about whether it’s worth bending over to pick it up. Not that I mind earning my keep, you know, I’ve earned everything I’ve ever gotten, it just would’ve been nice to start off with a little more. But we’ve all got our crosses, Lord knows.

Anyways, the first year I planted started good enough, I got things going early and the yields were looking fine. Then a windstorm came and blew all my seeds out of the ground, and I had to replant, and that cost me $500. They nickle and dime you for every damn seed I tell you. I got $11,000 of the first cutting of hay that year, never saw such good prices again, but I needed it, and thank goodness we got it out before the rain. I found out later there was an error at the bank— the hay had only been worth about $4,000. Those bastards came and took $7,000 of it back, and I was spittin’ mad. The second cutting of hay I got more for, but the third cost me so much for harvesting I only pocketed about $500. I harvested the wheat okay in June, and then the corn right there in the last week of December, out of the same field. I thought, that’s sorta weird, but I got the money, and that’s what mattered.

That second year I bought five pregnant cows and five acres of the neighbors fruit orchards when they went out of business. I had to take on a fair bit of loans to do it, but it paid off good that year— the cherry harvest brought in $17,000 even. The neighbor bought a tractor and I started to have to pay him for work we need done, and I get worried that he’s socking money away, eyeing our land all the time, thinking one day what’s ours gonna be his. The cows were a total bust that year, but the hay, wheat and corn done okay. That was the year of the drivers strike and I had to pay $5,000 during the apple season because of the shortage. Can you believe that? I’m the one with the disappeared neighbor and the debt on the trees, and they’re the ones get paid for doing nothing. Should be ashamed. The annual deer hunt took the edge off though, and got a room named after me for my $3,000 donation to the local Elk Lodge. I didn’t do it for the room of course. I did cause it’s the right thing. Right there at the end of the year, those damned inspectors found apple maggot flies in the orchard and I lost an export contract because of it, and it cost me $2,500. Like they don’t have flies in China.

At the beginning of the third year, I bought 10 more acres of grain, and I thought things might be looking up for me. Unfortunately that neighbor I mentioned with the tractor, his names Tom, his uncle died and left him some land, and that made me even more nervous. I know for sure he’s looking at our front forty and just green with envy. But I showed him— bought a harvester that year, and then he was paying me, and we were really outstrippin’ these other guys, the fruit guys around us, who were going out of business left right and center, and we were buying them out as fast as we could. But that third year was also when I started to have all that trouble with time travel. I think I might have wrote you bought that back then, horizontal with back pain. But now I’m thinkin’ maybe the letter never reached, what with the time travel an all.

That’s Tom and me up on Rattlesnake Ridge in February right before the audit. I don’t think I’ll ever speak to him again to be right honest with you.

See what had happened was, I hurt my back sometime around the end of March getting down out of the harvester. And every time it happened, I would see a little fog, hear a pretty good crack, and just like that, it’d be the second week of January again, and I’m hearing about some new land deal in the valley. I still can’t quite figure exactly how much time I spent in that time loop. I think a year went by while I was just lolly-gagging through January, February, and March again and again, never quite getting to Spring planting. The worst part was, I did eventually make it just short of the 4th of July, and you won’t believe it, but without even hurting my back this time, I got shoved right back into that second week of January. Now you’re thinking, it don’t get no worse than that. But it does. At the end of March, I hurt my back again, and back again I went to January. I think I lived about 15 late Winters that year, all in a row. I thought I’d been touched. But what’ll you do? Eventually I saw another August.

The next few years passed quiet-like. By the sixth or seventh year I was buying acres and cows every year, never using credit, always cash. Tom was gettin bigger all the time, and it wasn’t easy always when we’d see one another in town or along the paper route we both worked (for $5,000 a year) not to think about how only one of us was going to be the biggest farmer in the valley, which is all that really mattered in the end. Somewhere in there I also had a little dust up with the IRS. Them brainless dipshits (excuse my french) garnished my income for errors on my tax return. Can you believe that?! They steal my hard earned money for taxes, and then decide whenever they want it’s not enough and they get to take more. I got a mind to take my shotgun down to Olympia and garnish their backsides. Or their frontsides for that matter. Another year in there was a bad drought and I lost everything, even the paper route.

I finally run out of room on the home place after the first decade so I rented some rangeland at the edge of town on Rattlesnake Ridge for more cows. But that same year, Mount Saint Helens blew her lid, and it was hard times for a lot of folk round here. Of course, ash ruined a lot of hay, and being one of the few people who didn’t have their hay ruined, I got to charge a pretty penny for it. I couldn’t believe how hopeful I was, so sure that this was going to finally give me a leg up on old Tom. But Tom’s land dodged the ash too, and my victory wasn’t no victory at all.

On my heart, I’d never did want nothing bad to happen to Tom. He’s a good guy, a good farmer. It’s just he’s gotten too big for his britches, the way I see it. He gets a few good harvests under his belt and he thinks he’s just about the King of Yakima Valley. I think it probably do him some good, his soul I mean, to be humbled now and then. Too much sugar’ll rot your teeth— too much money for one farmer’s liable to rot the community. And I thought somebody upstairs agreed with me when I hear there was a leaking electrical motor at the Feed Mill and contaminated his load of feed with PCB. The State Ag Inspector made him slaughter all his cows. Ten whole head. I thought for sure his number was up. But next thing you know, some rich folks from the city bought the farm next door to him and paid $100 an acre for hay to feed some fancy lawn ornaments they never ride. Then the Oil Company came and bought all his Oil and Gas leases. They come by my place too, but they tell me the oil under ground ends right at the property line. I worry for the community, an what he’s going to do to all our neighbors if he keeps growing like he is.

It wasn’t till this year itself that I was able to quit the paper route and really get into farming full time, and the thing is, I hardly got any heart left in me for it. Tom and me, we sat down for a big audit over the winter, and it turns out he got $315,000 in assets, and I’ve only got a piddly $286,900. That’s right. Tom’s the biggest farmer in the valley. And what am I? Just old Wapato Willie, barely getting by and living in the shadow of a villain that’ll take Grandpa’s land right out from under me if he get the chance, just like he done to all those neighbors with the fruit trees.

I think it might be time, and I know this’d be hard to hear, but I think it’s time for me to start thinking about spending more time in the Flagstaff place. I’ll always be a farmer at heart, you know that, but now that I own almost a hundred acres, I’m thinkin it’s probably bout time to start renting them out, giving some young guy a chance. It’ll be nice not to worry about the expenses and the weather and the time travel, and just collect that rent at the end of the year and watch the value of Grandpa’s prime real estate grow from a porch somewhere in sunny Arizona. Who knows, maybe I’ll even buy some land down there. My tax guy’s always telling me I need to diversify my portfolio.

I’m running out of paper an my hand’s cramping something fierce, but I hope this answered your questions about this game I been playin for the last few years called farming.

Your great-uncle,

Wapato Willie

Thanks for reading my letter from the farm. My full review of the game— it was more fun than I thought it would be, but a very settler-colonial and conservative take on American Agriculture. Though the game does mention that the names are Indigenous, I’ll add that Wapato is a type of plant, also known as broadleaf arrowhead or duck potato that grows in shallow marshland is edible.

So Close to Hacking American Ag

People have been giggling about this tweet all week, but I wanted to take a very brief moment to tell you why this is the most on-brand American Ag message I've seen in a long time.

Euro-american agriculture has, largely, always been a get-rich-quick scheme. For the first 100 years or so of white people being in North America, colonists regularly starved to death. And not a few people either, like 50% + of the population. Why?

Because the "farmers" (land speculators) were too busy planting cotton and tobacco to ship back to Europe to grow food for the people actually doing the work. That's the thing, coming to North America was not about "making a new home,” it was about making as much money and claiming as much land as you could as quickly as possible. The thing is, very little has changed today. American agriculture is *still* almost exclusively about cash/industrial crops at the expense of food production. It is still an activity dominated by an investor class (hello Bill Gates, America's biggest farmland owner), rather than a class of skilled workers.

In that way, this guy may seem a little doofy, but in reality, he has the spirit of The American Farmer down pat. He’s got all the vibes a mid-American history handbill talking about why there’s some perfect so-easy-a-caveman-could-do-it opportunity just West of wherever you are. You think every pioneer settler who moved West, either from the colonies into the Appalachians, from there to the MS basin, or into the west were highly skilled/experienced farmers? Hell no. They were second/third son rich dudes and the urban poor that got a marketing pitch about how *anyone* can farm (and between the lines, get rich) as long as you're willing to “work hard” which was a euphemism for murdering/dispossessing the local Indigenous people.

That's the thing. The American Ag narrative has always implied that the product of the land was the valuable part of farming. It is not now and never was. The valuable part has always been land itself. That's where this guy bought the marketing and not the reality. What he should do is take the million bucks, buy farmland, and then find a tomato grower and charge his tenant a ton of money forever. That's the real tradition of The American Farmer.

It’s Juneteenth

If you’re looking for some reparations to make, help these New American Farmers buy their land today.

Survey Says

Because we’re already running long, I’ll save discussion of the Would You Work for a Big Team Farm? survey until next week. But if you still want to take it, click here >>.

Last F(ew) Things

  • The weirdness of this week dovetailed nicely into the weirdness of this newsletter for me. Trying to wrap book one, pay rent, and dive back in on book two is a lot to juggle, so thanks for your patience this summer as I figure it out.

  • I’ll be in Wyoming and Colorado next week. Tips, tricks, recommendations, and meetup requests welcome!

  • My “Invites” tray remains open if you’d like me to say a few words at your summer wedding, tractor pull, or rodeo. Shoot me an email.

  • If you’re new to Big Team Farms and want some explanation for what the F you just read, check out The Intro Newsletter and more recent additions by visiting Big Team Farms online.

  • Do you have announcements that would be relevant to the 1,400 or so members of the Big Team? Feel free to shoot me messages about projects, resources, job posting, etc. And to everyone who’s done that already, or who has asked questions that I haven’t yet responded to, look out for those in the next couple of newsletters.

  • The Warrior Nun was bad it turned out, so we didn’t finish watching it. I’m rediscovering Happy Ending, a show *very much* of its early 2010s time but that’s still, you know, almost watchable. Also really into some of the videos on these two YouTube Channels; Cinema Therapy (try Aragon vs. Toxic Masculinity on for size) and Nathan Zed (try Death of the Teen Dysopian Era).

  • Don’t forget to share this email!

Stay safe out there friends. Don’t forget, if you have funny gifs, thoughts, comments, stories, questions, feedback, catchy song lyrics, good podcast recommendations, or anything else to tell me, I’m right on the other end of this email.

Rock on,

Sarah