Why We Love America: Flag, fear, faith on a family farm

GOODRICH, Michigan: Shauna and Daniel Weil test their sweetcorn crop to see if it’s ready for sale. Photo: David Crumm

GOODRICH, Michigan: Our 9,000-mile journey around America retraces a reporting trip David Crumm made in 1976, writing weekly stories about Americans he encountered in the Bicentennial Year. That long journey began in David’s hometown of Goodrich, Michigan, a rural community south of Flint in Genesee County. At that time, his sister Shauna was starting high school. Today, Goodrich is part of the suburban sprawl from northern Oakland County. Shauna and her husband Daniel are farmers, running one of the last family dairy farms in southern Genesee County. We asked them questions we will ask Americans all around the United States.

Question: What does “America” mean to you?

DANIEL: One word: freedom.

SHAUNA: When you say “America,” I think: This is my country, my land that I share with other people. We share some common American values.

Question: What do you think of when you see the flag or hear the national anthem?

DANIEL: We’re proud people, proud to be Americans. The flag reminds me of that. When I hear the anthem, I think of all the fighting that it took to create our country, all the things people went through back then to make this country for us. I do think about the words in the anthem and I can see those pictures in my mind when I hear the anthem.

SHAUNA: There’s a flag that flies on our farm everyday. We’re all so different in this country that the flag and the anthem remind us of our commonality. They remind us that we do share some things, even though we’re very different people. The flag sparks different kinds of reactions in me. I do find that if I see the flag, these days, as part of a military service even on television, it takes on much more significance for me. It hits my heart harder.

Question: Americans do seem to be united in their responses to the flag and anthem, but they’re also concerned in record numbers about financial wellbeing for themselves and their families. What concerns you about the future?

DANIEL: I think about conflicts with other nations. I’ve been reading recently about North Korea, for example, and I also think about the amount of energy America is using. As a farmer, I think about energy usage on a daily basis and I wonder: What are our kids going to be doing 50 years from now at the rate we’re using the world’s energy? There’s more than energy to think about. I’m concerned about our use of water. Anyone in farming thinks about that every day. Will there be enough water in the future to irrigate our farms? The way water is being used these days, we’re depleting our water resources. What will life be like for our grandchildren?

SHAUNA: I just finished reading a book “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl” that was about people who stayed in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. These were farmers who had created a man-made disaster that destroyed their way of life. It took some years to realize they had created it themselves, but finally it became clear that choices they had made allowed that disaster to happen. Today, have we learned much? We’re still creating problems in our own pathway as a country and worldwide. I look at my youngest daughter and wonder: Will she be safe in the future?

Question: What gives you hope?

DANIEL: There’s a lot to fear if you’re a farmer. The average age of farmers, I’ve heard, is 50-plus. There are fewer young people getting started, because it’s almost impossible for a younger person to get started in family farming these days. The costs are just too high to start out now. The trend is against family farms and toward the large corporate farms. But we just survived one of the worst years we’ve ever experienced as dairy farmers. A lot of things happened in that year when the worldwide financial markets were hit so hard. Exports of dairy products dried up. All of a sudden, it seemed like we didn’t have an economy that was functioning. It was terrible for a year or so. But, now, the economy seems to be improving enough that dairy supply and demand is leveling off and prices are getting better again. We’re starting to make a profit again. Short term, the picture appears to be improving. I hope we’re back on track. We’ll never get rich, but farmers always hope we can at least make ends meet and keep our families going.

SHAUNA: America is my country and I’m proud of it, but our faith also is a very important part of our lives. What gives our family hope? Our faith is a large part of the hope we see each day.

(Photos and story reported by David Crumm and Benjamin Crumm for readthespirit.com and the Detroit Free Press. The father-son team will be reporting on American lives for 40 days and 9,000 miles.)

GOODRICH, Michigan: Dairy farmer Daniel Weil checks on a cow about to give birth to a calf in the farm’s maternity barn. Photo: David Crumm

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