Column: A hill farmer ponders her stimulus check

  • Suzanne Lupien. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 6/21/2021 10:10:03 PM
Modified: 6/21/2021 10:10:06 PM

Dear Mr. President and members of Congress: I feel it necessary to account for how I intend to spend your stimulus check of March 17, 2021, in the amount of $1,400.

A reckoning was not required, requested or suggested, but as there is no such thing as free money, I thought it might be useful for you to know something about one individual’s needs and priorities, and the strength of her choices, whether the stimulus stimulated anything on the side of sustainable prosperity or was just frittered away on lipstick and pizza.

Personally, I’m a bit queasy over the name stimulus as I get the sinking feeling that the world’s rather overstimulated as it is by our consumer spending culture, landfills included, but first let me thank you for thinking of me and sending the check. I do feel honor bound to use it wisely so together we can perhaps examine the motivation behind it, philosophically and practically.

First, I must admit that I am an older person, a Vermont hill farmer, a category of persons considered to be unenthusiastic and noncompliant as regards to the consumer spending ideal perpetrated in this country for the last 100 years.

Owing to our tradition of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, of which we are very proud, we have been called backward, even subversive, by you folks in Washington since the Great Depression. Back then, smart and successful people made jokes about Vermont farmers not even noticing the effects of the economic crisis because we didn’t really buy things.

Part of it was, of course, that we lacked the funds, which is to some degree still true, but the real problem from the standpoint of big business, the rulers of this country, is that we didn’t feel the lack the way other people do, if we were able to meet our very basic needs. Beyond that, if you were a self-respecting, prudent person, there wasn’t much you felt you had to have — maybe more land, or a pedigree bull. Sitting in the outhouse perusing the Montgomery Ward catalog got whatever it was pretty much out of your system.

Somewhere in the haze of long ago it was decided that spending money was the most American thing a person could do, and suddenly we weren’t individuals anymore, or even citizens. We became consumers.

Ideologically, patriotically and practically speaking, encouraging people to use their hard-earned money to buy crap was a tragic and underhanded thing to do, and amounted to the real and terrible loss of stability and power of the people in their own lives and their own dreams, not to mention the vast escalation in environmental degradation.

From the point of view of Vermont hill farmers, it represented the opposite of their moral code, as reflected in Article 18 of Vermont’s Declaration of Rights, “that frequent recurrence to fundamental principles, and a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty, and keep government free.”

It has long been the tradition of the countryfolk to spend as little as possible, and certainly not to waste anything, nor to purchase anything that wasn’t high quality, and certainly not to ask for, or accept, a handout. Your pride, your honor, and your liberty depended on it.

So, I’ll tell you like it is — our value systems, yours and mine, do not match, and how I intend to spend the $1,400 will certainly not stimulate the economy the way you would like me to. I won’t be purchasing any technological devices because I don’t go in for that sort of thing. I don’t really buy anything beyond the very basics at the grocery store, don’t go out to eat or get my hair done, or buy clothes, or go on trips, or collect trinkets, etc., etc. The best I can do with your stimulus is to strengthen my farm in ways that ought to increase fertility and prosperity, which will send me even further away from your American consumer ideal.

I don’t even use a tractor, sorry! I use horses, they consume hay, not gasoline. If I want to stimulate them, I scratch their itchy spots, or I say, “step up!”

In the long run, turning my back on my government’s construct of success — big business, stock markets and increasing profits — will help capitalism wither away. Then whoever is left can work to restore health to our beleaguered planet, surely no fan of the modern industrial complex. I’d like to place my hopes on the flourishing of the natural world, even if it depends upon extinction of mankind.

Anyhow, thanks for the check.

P.S.: If the vegetable garden does really well this summer, I could perhaps return the $1,400 to the Treasury. To whom, exactly, should I make out the check? Please advise.

Suzanne Lupien lives, writes and farms in Vershire.

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