Monday, November 9, 2015

Bob Comis, his pigs, and guilt

from the fundraising page for "thelastpig" documentary
I first ran across Bob Comis when I read an essay that he wrote about how local meat prices are too high,  in Aprile of 2009.  If you look in the comment section of that post, I argued that Bob's quoted cost of raising a pig was way too low, and backed that up with figures from my own operation.   Funny enough, 2 years later there was Bob with his prices right up there with everyone else; he even wrote an angst-laden blog entry about how high his prices were in 2011, and I had a private laugh about that.  

Over time I'd see Bob write about something farming related, and honestly, some of the stuff he wrote was really...  depressing.   And not because of the usual farming stuff, but more because of the constant personal angst that I kept seeing in his posts.  Guilt, rage, conflict.  Like in this post.

One thing that is interesting to watch is drama, and Bob Comis is big farming drama.   A documentary director has decided to dramatize "the last pig that Bob Comis delivers to the butcher", and there's a dramatic trailer with nice lingering visuals.  It's pigs, but the disney version.  It's Bambi vs a deer hunting video.  I'm struggling for how to articulate this - it's not farming.

Not farming as I experience it.   After reading and talking to and knowing about Bob for the past 6 years, I often wondered why on earth he continued to farm if it bothered him so much.  But it's not just that farming bothers him, in my opinion everything bothers Bob.  He hates cubicles.  He hates Tractors.   If I were to summarize the vast majority of his life it would be "darn, life is sure a bummer!!"  I can't recall ever reading a post from him that I found hopeful, or joyful, or even happy.

I've been full-time farming for a while now, and I've personally probably killed more than a thousand pigs.  Maybe a few thousand, and I too love the animal.  Pigs are my favorite livestock, and I care for them by hand and live with them and I too do my best to offer them the best life I can while they are here.

But even with all of that, there are parts of farming that draw me, that provide me joy and fufillment, and that let me sleep at night knowing that i've done good work.  Back to the documentary...

Here's what I wrote recently on a social site about killing - which is the focus of this documentary:

"I run a pig farm, and sell direct to people who eat the pigs; we sell some live, and some processed. Some of the processing we do here on the farm; for bbq pigs, for instance. So I've probably killed around a thousand pigs.
now I like pigs; I started pig farming because I like the animal, and I enjoy working with them; we are a farrow-to-finish operation for some of our production; we sell most of our pigs as weaners.
Even after doing the quantity of killing that i've done, I still have feelings of regret-relief-satisfaction-remorse, some days more than others, at the act of the kill. it's particularly hard to kill animals that you've bottle fed, or to have to put down pets, or to kill an animal that you really-really-really hope will recover, but you know that it won't, and a quick end is the humane and kind choice for the animal.
it's different, killing.  "

If you go long enough we will all die.  It's a universal rule that we all have to abide by, to face, to contemplate, and eventually obey.  

It's the way nature is; it's the way we are.  I am conflicted but content.    


grasspunk said...

I always wondered why he farmed. It even crossed my mind he was anti-farming and trying to cause harm with his musings.

I've got a cousin that didn't want to take on the family farm because he didn't want to send cows off to the slaughterhouse. Later in life he regretted not taking it on and wished he'd gotten over himself. Who knows how things turn out.

Me I love selling people great meats and I love running a healthy farm. I never feel bad sending off a cow or slaughtering a chicken. BTW we have a few pigs now for personal consumption. I see why you like them.

Bill Gauch said...

I just read a bit of his writing, including the links you posted. In his final post on his page a year ago, he decided to quit animal farming entirely. It sounds like he never realized the one hard, fast fact of farming... Just like every other job, it's a job. If anything, farming is worse because, unlike most jobs, you need to do it every day instead of just 5 days per week. I've known aspiring writers who constantly lament the fact that they aren't published, successful authors like they thought they would be. Most of them have 1 thing in common. They spend a few hours per day writing for a week, then put it on the back burner, then maybe return, then take a break. Meanwhile, 20 years pass and all they have to show for it is 5 or 6 short stories and one bloated, unedited novel which has been summarily rejected by all publishing houses. Meanwhile, the 1 successful, published author I know wrote 9 fully edited and complete novels in 5 years before getting any interest in what he wrote. He probably spent 30+ hours per week writing.

Back to farming, if all you want to do is be outside and be your own boss and have a low-volume farm, you either need to work really, really hard at it or find some specialty niche that will earn you a tidy profit. I remember reading about a micro-green farm in Maine which earned tons of money per year with only a 24'x96' greenhouse. They were supplying greens to most of the Northeast. I've also seen success stories of people sustainably harvesting ginseng and other specialty crops. And I've seen failures where a farm is on the brink of bankruptcy because they sold the conservation easement and invested that money in a goat dairy (mostly cheese) operation and reduced their production of everything else. Things were great for them until they weren't. Their reduced production and laid back attitude when they were cash rich meant that they turned me off from being their regular customer. Then, they started violating the sacred rule of customer service. They loudly, vocally started bad-mouthing their customers on their facebook page. I haven't been back since and have no intention of ever going back.

The idea that being a farmer is a relaxed, laid-back way of life is laughable. Sure, you get to be outside and enjoy nature and know where your food comes from and all those other perks. However, if you don't come in from the field sweaty and dirty and exhausted, you're doing it wrong.

Bruce King said...

Grasspunk; glad you like pigs too. They are my favorite livestock, hands down.

Bill - I never got the sense from what he wrote that he enjoyed farming. It was always a struggle, there was always some sort of drama... but then I realized that he viewed all parts of his life that way. There wasn't anything he enjoyed, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

According to a Nov5/15 article from the Huffington Post (eek), Bob is now a "vegan activist."
That's a pretty good way for him to carry on with his guilty howlings.