July 23rd, 2019

Max’s View

Peter and the Farm
A Montpelier lobbyist once told me that if you want to convince a Vermonter of your side, hire a farmer to present your argument. Vermonters trust farmers above all others.

There’s something weird about that. Seemingly, the only thing separating a farmer from you or me is that he has a terrible, terrible job.

Two hundred years ago, 72% of American workers were farmers. Today, it is 2%. It’s a proven fact of history that most people eagerly leave the farm when given the chance.

Farming is the most dangerous, time-consuming, and emotionally taxing way to earn a living. Just ask poor Peter Dunning.

Peter is a profane old drunken philosopher. He lives alone on a farm off a dirt road near Springfield. Either you will hate him or you will pity him. Or both.

When you picture a family farmer, you imagine that he has a fatherly kinship with his animals. Like James Cromwell in “Babe.” Not Peter Dunning.

He treats his animals like commodities and pains in the butt. There is a graphic scene where he shoots one of his sheep to death and then skins and disembowels the corpse. The sad thing is, that is the nicest thing he does to a sheep the entire movie. Peter really hates sheep.

I’m not judging the guy. It is possible that 35 years of farming makes a man indifferent to death and suffering. However, if the government enacted a prohibitive sin tax on every item of meat sold in Vermont, I would heartily support the measure.

These days, being a farmer might actually be more dangerous than going to war. The few people I know who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan came home in one piece. Peter Dunning, on the other hand, has a three-fingered claw for a right hand as the result of a gruesome farm accident.

Another shocking fact about being a farmer: zero paid vacation days. In fact, zero vacations period because you are always needed on the farm. For decades, Peter hasn’t traveled any further than the Brattleboro Farmers Market.

Not that he has anyone to visit. Apparently, sheep aren’t the only mammals that Peter has mistreated over the years. Peter Dunning has two ex-wives and several children. He is estranged from all of them.

“Peter and the Farm” is a horror movie. Peter’s daily life is a living nightmare of loneliness, regret, and pain. He talks openly of suicide. He describes the deepest depths of alcoholism, where he has to get up in the middle of the night and guzzle rum in order to stave off Delirium Tremens.

As a Vermonter, apparently, you suffer from the strange mental affliction of romanticizing the family farmer. “Peter and the Farm” is your detox. There is nothing romantic about the life of a farmer. Just ask poor Peter Dunning.

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