Thursday, April 21, 2011

Today I got a letter from the White House.

The writer presumed that I wouldn't remember my high school commencement speaker. How wrong she was! Here is what I wrote Melody, the sender of the letter.

Hello, Melody,

You ask:  Do you remember your high school commencement speaker?

As a matter of fact, I remember him very well.  It was 1959, and our class of 17 kids, mostly from farm families, was graduating.  The speaker showed up late.  He was missing one of his eye teeth, and his suit was well worn, shoes obviously old with heels in need of replacing.

He spoke of injuring his left hand when he was a child.  The doctor told him that the hand would never fully recover, would always be the weak hand.  He gave him a heavy rubber band and an exercise to help strengthen the damaged hand.  The speaker told us that he did the exercise with gusto, and over time his hand recovered.

Several years later, he was in a doctor's office for another problem with his hands.  The doctor said to him, "You injured your hand at one time, didn't you?"  Yes, the speaker told him, that was true, and asked the doctor how he knew. 

The doctor replied, "Your left hand is much stronger than your right."

Are you following this?  The doctor thought the RIGHT hand had been injured because the left hand was so much stronger, when in fact it was the injured hand that had become the stronger one.  I have never forgotten his message.  Use adversity, whatever it is, to get stronger.  It has carried me through some difficult situations - raising two kids as a single mother, starting college when I was 43, earning an MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management in 1996, and taking early retirement from the corporate world to start my own farming operation. 

Why start farming at 62?  I want to do something about what is happening to our food.

We have the lowest per capita food costs in the world, and the highest per capita medical costs.  We are 37th in infant mortality, right there with Croatia, no less, and our life expectancy is in a tie with Cuba at 35th.  And yet we approve genetically modified grains without adequate testing on what it will do to our health and our environment. 

We feed our kids massive amounts of carbohydrates while we ignore the fact that insulin resistance is at the base of most if not all of our "Western" illnesses, and the way to avoid insulin resistance is to cut carbohydrates and make sure we get plenty of good fats.  Yet we create a food pyramid that glorifies grain and demonizes fat. 

We pass laws that make it difficult for small farmers to sell their food directly to the consumers.  We say that pasteurized milk is good for us and raw milk is bad for us in spite of much data that proves the contrary.  We try to pass onerous laws that would make a small farmer micro-chip every animal on the place. 

Richard Deming preached that you cannot inspect in quality at the end of the line, but must design it in at the very start.   We need to quit focusing on chasing after what went wrong with our food after the fact, and get rid of the bad design - the factory farms that are poisoning our environment and shutting out small farmers who cannot afford to spend millions on lobbyists to slant the laws in their direction.

My left hand is still working on that rubber band, and that rubber band is called "food sovereignty."  The Little Engine That Could was a Woman, and I am a Woman, and I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.  What is it I think I can do?  I think I can help to inject some sanity into our food chain in the United States.  I think I can help to get GMOs labeled so that we can make a free choice on whether or not we want to consume them while we wait for proper testing.  I think I can help people to make better choices.  I think I can haul my organic vegetables to the Farmers Market and educate while I sell.

I think I can.  I think I can.  I think I can.

And I think I can make time for a phone call if you want to hear more about what I have to say, Melody.  I left my number on the White House web site message center.

Susan Siemers

Walkerton, IN 46574


  1. Susan, What a wonderful post! With you I would change the "I think I can" to "I know I can"! :-) Sue K

  2. How nice of you to think that, Sue! :)

  3. What a lovely post. Those of us who remember reading 'The Little Engine That Could' to our kids know that the engine did make it. But there are always new hills to climb.

  4. Thank you for posting, Susan. I enjoyed reading it and will enjoy sharing it. And yes, I think we can too!
    Paul Turner in Ohio

  5. That is right - always new hills. And I would probably be very bored indeed if there weren't.

  6. We all need to get an "I think I can" attitude, and become more proactive in this area!!
    Barb Kelley in Indiana

  7. Wonderful! I really enjoyed this post! Great farm girl, you are! <3