For Michael Bloomberg

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Michael Bloomberg, billionaire and unsuccessful presidential candidate, in a speech at Oxford University, said: “I could teach anybody […] to be a farmer. It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn. You can learn that. Then you had three hundred years of the industrial society. You put a piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in the direction of the arrow, and you can have a job. […] 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 you have to learn are how to think and analyze. […] You have to have a lot more gray matter.”

The following poem by Indiana poet and two-time Pushcart Prize nominee Thomas Alan Orr, is dedicated (by me) to Mr. Bloomberg and to all the sleek and pampered elites who sneer at the farmers and ranchers who feed them, and laugh at the men and women who build the everyday tools they take for granted.

Soybeans, by Thomas Alan Orr

The October air was warm and musky, blowing

Over brown fields, heavy with the fragrance

Of freshly combined beans, the breath of harvest.


He was pulling a truckload onto the scales

At the elevator near the rail siding north of town

When a big Cadillac drove up. A man stepped out,

Wearing a three-piece suit and a gold pinky ring.

The man said he had just invested a hundred grand

In soybeans and wanted to see what they looked like.


The farmer stared at the man and was quiet, reaching

For the tobacco in the rear pocket of his jeans,

Where he wore his only ring, a threadbare circle rubbed

By working cans of dip and long hours on the backside

Of a hundred acre run. He scooped up a handful

of small white beans, the pearls of the prairie, saying:


Soybeans look like a foot of water on the field in April

When you’re ready to plant and can’t get in;

Like three kids at the kitchen table

Eating macaroni and cheese five nights in a row;

Or like a broken part on the combine when

Your credit with the implement dealer is nearly tapped.


Soybeans look like prayers bouncing off the ceiling

When prices on the Chicago grain market start to drop;

Or like your old man’s tears when you tell him

How much the land might bring for subdivisions.

Soybeans look like the first good night of sleep in weeks

When you unload at the elevator and the kids get Christmas.


He spat a little juice on the tire of the Cadillac,

Laughing despite himself and saying to the man:

Now maybe you can tell me what a hundred grand looks like.

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5 thoughts on “For Michael Bloomberg”

  1. How I love this. I am a little touchy coming from a farm family, but I try to remember that not everyone was born with good sense.

    My father’s father was a share-cropper, like his forefathers before him, and my dad grew up plowing with mules, and then found a little bit of local glory in his prowess with a tractor when the opportunity came, being so new (not new as in just invented, but new to the very poor) and my dad having a natural aptitude for all things mechanical. My father didn’t always farm, his life was interrupted by WWII, where he landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and where his farm-raising stood him in good stead as far as survival and his job as an engineer (he served with General Patton). And like the doughboys of WWI, I guess they found it difficult to keep him down on the farm. After returning home for a couple of years, he re-upped as part of the newly formed United States Air Force, and that good old Kentucky boy spent the next few years in England where he met my mother. He spent 20 more years serving his country, on top of the three he served with the US Army during the war.

    After leaving the military, he worked for a company making helicopters, and as a supervisor for the Illinois Department of Transportation. But in the end, in his 60’s, he went back to his roots and farmed, helping his brothers and a neighbor well into his 80’s. Because it was in his blood, it was what he knew, and it was what he loved.

    My Depression-era father only had a sixth-grade education as his family was poor and the children had to work to keep the family going. But in the service, he received his GED and took every class he could (he was a member of the 567th Strategic Missile Squadron, the Sentinels for Peace, and was on call during the Bay of Pigs Invasion) and he mastered every task he was given.

    My father was always the smartest man I ever knew. His early lack of education didn’t stop him from learning, and he learned everything he could, but he was also smart about the land, about life, about people, and with people – all of which I directly attribute to his rural raising amidst a farming family.

    I’d also like to add, this isn’t always the case, but to remind those that think all farmers, particularly those from Kentucky, are redneck and with the negative connotations of that label – my father was raised in a time and place where racism and racist words were a norm. Yet we were never raised with racist words or racist ideas. As a matter of fact, we were raised on the precept that “ALL men are created equal in the eyes of God,” and as my mother always said, who are we to doubt Him?

    My father always treated my mother as an equal, and he never spoke a disrespectful word about anyone. (Seriously, even people who were not nice and didn’t deserve respect – the worst thing my father would ever say was, “Well, I reckon it’s not always easy to like them.”) But make no mistake, he was as tough as they come. And my dad commanded respect without ever raising a hand or his voice. He was well and truly remarkable.

    Right after my father retired from the Air Force, we lived in Indianapolis for a few years. One of the neighbors came to talk to him because an African-American family had looked at a house in the neighborhood and the was trying to get everyone to sign a petition to keep them out. My father, in his no-frills manner, told him that the couple had as much right to live there as anyone else, and when the neighbor got mad and asked if Dad would sign the petition or not, he said no. (It was quite shocking to me that the neighbor was so despicable.)

    Bloomberg’s words struck a nerve with me also, because I was raised by a farmer and in the midst of farm families. And, yes, because my father was a farmer and he was my hero, and he was the greatest human being I ever knew.

    This nation’s farmers could teach Mike Bloomberg and his ilk a great deal, and not just about farming. I wonder if they are smart enough to learn.


  2. What a wonderful note. My father too was the finest man I’ve ever known. I hope to do him justice in a book I’ve just finished. One comment:
    To state something that is clearly obvious to you, too many people equate education with intelligence. I have friends who would qualify as illiterate beyond the capacity to sign their names and read a few basic sentences in a newspaper, but I would rate some of them as the most intelligent men I know. In one case, also one of the richest men I know, a man who overcame crushing adversity to be where he is now, which is to say probably the richest man in his town, and the kind of person everyone in that town knows that if he says it and shakes your hand, you don’t need any written contract. The world may revolve around major cities and capitols, but the people who live in those cities have forgotten that their lives are held in the calloused palms of farmers and factory workers, ranchers and hardworking small business owners.
    Stay safe.

  3. Mike Bloomberg not only insulted farmers the insulted blue collar factory workers. No wonder he lost in the primaries.

  4. What a confusing statement from Mr. Bloomberg!
    So how do you replace people with technology when it is people who create the new technology? Every farmer/rancher and tool maker has come up with creative new ways to accomplish specific tasks. Here is where thinking and analyzing happens. This is technological innovation and for this gray matter is required. I think dealing with problems in agriculture and manufacturing require just as much thinking and analyzing as comparing data and making a decision based on that information. (Which seems to be the definition of information economy).
    I am also a grateful member of the Terrific Father Club. (Mother, too). Not everyone is so fortunate.
    (He was also a farmer as a young man but he chose to educate himself by taking correspondence courses which he studied by kerosene lamp in the evenings in order get into university.)
    I look forward to your book.

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