David R. Henderson  

A Community Comes Together

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Four years ago, I posted about Rolf Penner, a Manitoba farmer who was fighting the Canadian Wheat Board, the government-run monopsony that bought and then resold the wheat produced by western Canada's farmers. My interaction with him led to an invite to visit him on his farm while I was at my cottage that summer. I accepted and had a great visit.

While I was there, he was harvesting and so I joined him in his combine. As I had predicted in my 2012 post (not that this was a tough prediction), combines had come a long way since the ones I was familiar with in the Carman, Manitoba area during the mid-1960s. And his wasn't particularly new.

One little problem. When I got out of his combine and started walking to my rental car, I realized that my keys had fallen out. Were they somewhere in that wheat field, in which case I was screwed, or had they fallen out onto the floor of the combine? By the time I noticed the missing keys, the combine was way down at the other end of the long field. So I went to where his 72-year old father, Udo Penner, was sitting in a truck. I told him the situation and he used his walkie-talkie to contact his son Rolf. Good news: Rolf had the keys. But I would have to wait until the combine came back to that end of the field.

Which turned out to be further good news. Because I had a delightful 5 or 10-minute conversation with Udo. He had come from Germany after World War II, where his relatives were also farmers. Unfortunately, they were in East Germany. After the Berlin Wall fell, he had been back in touch and had learned some of the horrors of centrally-planned agriculture. One story that stands out: His relatives said that sometimes during harvest season, they would get a midnight call from MOSCOW!! (not even from the closer central planners in Berlin) telling them to harvest the next day. But, they replied in one case, it's raining hard outside and plowing a wet crop will destroy the crop. It didn't matter. Those were their orders.

This summer, at age 76, Udo Penner was still an active farmer with his son. That is, until a tragic accident on July 31. Udo was killed by in a car accident while driving to church.

But Udo was a very active, productive farmer. Rolf and he worked seamlessly together. What to do?

That's what this article is about.

An excerpt:

The hog shipping got underway and completed, with extra help from those the farm normally had doing weighing and sorting duties. Meanwhile, farmer after farmer from areas around Morris, Dufrost, Arnaud and Ste. Elizabeth, finding spare blocks of time amidst their tight work schedules, made themselves available to help with the harvest. Decisions were made. Swathing got underway, and cereal crops came off, often very quickly, with multiple combines going at the job.

Last Saturday, with heavy rain forecast, 320 acres of canola untouched, and Penner's own combine on the blink, neighbours began rolling in one after the other throughout the day. By evening the entire field was lit up with the lights of multiple combines making their rounds. By 11 p.m. the half section was done. Then it began to rain.


This is somewhat a propos of my post on Jonathan Lipow and his claim that I am exceptional. It's not exactly the same, because I risked being beat up (although, truth be told, the risk was small). But it does speak to people's willingness to help each other in times of trouble.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Peter writes:

David, thouroughly enjoyed this post. What it reminds me of is that not only do farmers help each other physically, but economically as well.

Big successful farmers keep the implement dealers and grain elevators profitable. This enables small agri producers to have a place to buy supplies, parts, and equipment, as well as mix in with the big producers at harvest. I beleive most people do not understand that without such community and interaction, agri business would be much less efficient.

By the way, you are invited to visit my farm any time.

Pajser writes:

People frequently behave altruistically, there is large number of experiments by now; it turns that kind of behavior strongly depends on social context. Some experiments are unusually encouraging.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2014/nov/22/behind-the-scenes-of-a-shocking-new-study-on-human-altruism

That communal helping is important part in Brennan's vision of capitalism in book "Why not capitalism", where he tried to show that it is morally better than socialism as described in Cohen's "Why not socialism."

The problem is that "in trouble" part is relative. In every moment, someone has greater need than others, so eventually, people do not have moral reason to ever switch back to self-interest mode of work.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Peter,
Thanks. Where is your farm?

scm writes:

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