I hadn’t heard of Rick Friday until he was fired by Farm News, despite the fact that Rick had been drawing his cartoons for the paper for 21 years. Most people probably hadn’t.
He knows his stuff. Rick is from a family of farmers in Iowa and shared stories of farm life…until a few weeks ago, when he drew a picture that compared the complete imbalance of income—between of the CEOs of Monsanto, Dupont and Deere and 2,219 Iowa farmers.
It was an honest depiction of what has happened to farming in America.
The corporations paying the big ad dollars over at Farm News didn’t like it, and the action was swift. After 21 years, Rick was fired.
When we shared the story on the site, it was breaking in other places, too, and his cartoons suddenly went viral. He was speaking truth to power, sharing the concerns of farmers not only in Iowa, but also around the world. His story was picked up by the New York Times and news outlets in the Netherlands.
The truth is so obvious.
Afterwards, I reached out to Rick, thanking him for his courage, and as I began to learn more about this man, I felt that others should hear his story, so I asked if we could share a bit more about him here.
Rick Friday is not only a hero to farmers around the country, but increasingly a hero to American families, too.
In his own words, “I am a fifth generation farmer, fourth generation on this century farm. It stops with me. My children have no interest, and why should they it is a hard life driven by a passion you can’t escape.
I was in big corporate management for half my life and when dad’s diagnosis of COPD handed him only 5 more years to live, I tossed the dress pants and pulled on a pair of bib overalls and had four of the best years of our lives together. He said to me after I told him I had an opportunity to be part of the corporation’s executive staff, “Sometimes you don’t get the biggest bang with a buck.” He was right and I would not give up those years for anything.”
When he shared this, I thought about how many people I’ve met who are not following in their father’s footsteps. Farming is stopping and not entering the sixth generation. We have countless 5th generation farmers, but very few are signing on to be the 6th.
So what has changed so dramatically in the last generation to drive out so many farmers?
The business model.
Twenty years ago, companies like Monsanto introduced genetically engineered seeds onto our farms. It changed farming, not only because of the increased applications of products like Roundup on Roundup Ready corn and seed, but it obligated farmers into paying licensing, trait and royalty fees. It created a new revenue stream for the corporations at the expense of the farmers.
Farmers, after five generations, could no longer save seeds. They had to purchase them with every new planting season. With the introduction of these genetically engineered seeds, farmers were locked into a business model their grandfathers hadn’t known. Monsanto and companies like it became the middle man and locked themselves into a revenue stream.
I asked Rick if he was concerned about it.
“There are people starving now,” he said. “Wait until 1% of the population controls the production of food for profits. I am worried.” It is why he is speaking out about these multinational corporations and the control they have over our food.
He is not the only one. Farmers are joining him, entire countries are joining him.
As a fifth generation farmer, Rick and his wife Juanita who he calls “The Great Juan” have raised five kids, two construction foremen, one realtor, one special needs teacher and one lawyer. They have nine grand kids that they call “The Sippy Cup Gang” (just love that) and one on the production line who will be with them in the fall.
In other words, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone as knowledgeable about the farm economy as Rick Friday.
Perhaps that is why he was fired after 21 years working for Farm News. He’s been there since this genetically engineered operating system was first introduced twenty years ago. He’s seen its impact on farmers.
The silver lining is that the very thing that Monsanto and the other companies were trying to create—the silencing of Rick Friday’s voice—resulted in a much larger audience for his work. Millions more saw his cartoons, farmers around the country and the world began speaking out.
So what is Rick doing now?
“I write an article each week for a paper, mostly about being married, living on the farm and all the stuff I do.”
Keep doing your stuff, Rick Friday. Your courage is contagious, because you are an American hero.