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David Giffels went on a journey to understand America, and for the Akron-based writer, that started in Ohio. Giffels, the author of Furnishing Eternity, The Hard Way on Purpose, and All The Way Home, travelled around the state, working on his new book, in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. Every month, WKSU's Andrew Meyer checked in regularly with Giffels to talk to him about what he's learned along the way.

To Understand Ohio, David Giffels Heads to the Farm

photo of farm
There are 75,000 farms in Ohio.

David Giffels believes the journey to understanding America begins with Ohio. Traveling around the state, the Akron-based writer is working on a new book ahead of next year’s election.

That quest continues in farm country, where Giffels found the weather to be a roadblock.

“I was trying to schedule a visit to a farm in May and June and the way that the rain has been, it’s been kind of hard to squeeze in a visiting writer when you’re trying to get your crops into the ground.”

In Delaware, Ohio, Giffels found Bret Davis. Davis has multiple roles such as the secretary of the American Soybean Association and a board member of the Ohio Soybean Association, but primarily he’s a farmer. A sixth-generation farmer, Davis grows mostly soybeans, corn and wheat.

“So, he’s really kind of in touch and in tune, not only with Ohio’s farmers, but with government officials who kind of have a lot to do with their fates these days, as well.” Giffels spent a day on Davis’ farm.

Why farm country?
Farmers across the country overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in 2016.

“The main reason is because he was not just another politician. Because farmers don’t like talk, they like action.”

Giffels believes it was then president-elect Trump’s business background and approach that gave him an edge to farmers across the nation.

The impact of farming in Ohio

Giffels recognizes that living in Northeast Ohio he hasn't thought much about the impact of Ohio farmers--at least, not until now.  

There are more than 75,000 working farms in Ohio. 

“I don’t think as much about where my food comes (from) as I should. Having spent a lot of time talking to farmers and reading about their plight this year, I’m definitely much more sensitive and aware of things like that.”

Giffels said Northeast Ohio residents may become more aware of farmers' problems this year as sweet corn could become less available.

Impact of tariffs
While farmers have been dealing with extreme weather shortening their planting windows, they’ve also been impacted by new tariffs.

Multiple challenges face U.S. farmers

Giffels said China is the biggest trade partner for soybean farmers across the country.

“According to Bret Davis, only 5 percent of the American soybean crop went to China last year.”

Giffels said farmers are already set back on sales from last year with the addition of the unexpected weather.

A photo of David Giffels with Andrew Meyer.
David Giffels is traveling around Ohio ahead of the 2020 election to better understand the Ohio voter.

“Everything that could go wrong for the Ohio farmer, has gone wrong this year. Some because of nature and some because of government, but all because of factors beyond their control.”

Giffels mentions the third challenge of subsidies offered by President Trump to farmers who have been hurt by the ongoing trade conversations. But, according to Giffels, farmers have an independent spirit and don’t want to accept a bailout.

“You know, to accept something that is essentially welfare is not really helping them spiritually. And also economically, it only gets them reset for next year.”

He said multiple years in a row of these conditions could crush some Ohio farms.

The bellwether farmer
Giffels said Davis could very well be used to represent what many farmers are feeling right now as the president’s first term draws to a close.

“Because he serves an advocacy role, because he is sort of the farm version of a political representative, I think he’s in tune with where people are.”

According to Giffels, Davis said he feels the average Ohio farmer feels more in favor of the business approach, but that the president hasn’t taken it yet.

David Giffels’ new book will be focused on getting a better understanding of Ohio, and in so doing, a better understanding of our country. We’ll be checking in with Giffels every month over the course of his travels to talk to him about what he’s finding.

Andrew Meyer is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.