Pennies for Potatoes

By Jennifer Adams

Just turning 19, Bill decided that it was his time to make a name for himself in this world. As a child he had always worked with his father in their family field farming lettuce. Bill had proven himself to be a skilled worker, every day he was worked as hard as he could in order to pick enough lettuce to sell to the market. Billís family was requires to produce a certain amount that would ensure a low enough price that would guarantee a sale of the lettuce. In Billís hometown; the family supply of lettuce equaled the marketís demand. Billís family was happy with this, the income gained was enough to support their family and enough to maintain the farm. For 19 years Bill constantly watched his father make ends meet, Bill approved but always felt that there was an opportunity to make more money and improve his familyís economic profit.

††††††††††† With this in mind Bill left his sheltered community in Ohio and ventured west, to a land of the unknown: Idaho. Bill had heard about Idaho and knew that there was plenty of land available and he felt, money to be made. So Bill decided to pack up his belongings, all of his farming tools and move to Idaho. Upon his arrival Bill was shocked, Idaho was nothing like he expected. Bill noticed that there were very few wealthy people and a very large population of poor people with little or no money. At first Bill was ecstatic, he knew with his training and dedication he too, could be one of the wealthy citizens of Idaho.

††††††††††† Billy approached a young man who had just walked out of the local market who appeared to have been selling items. Through their discussion Billy had learned many things about Idaho that had shocked him: the only crop that would make money is potatoes, and even worse all the land was owned by five wealthy families. These families would rent their land to locals to be used to grow potatoes and charge outrageous prices to the local farmers. These steep land rentals created two classes; the extremely rich and then the poor farmers. Billy thought to himself, ďWhy would all of these people continue to farm when the price of growing potatoes is so high? Why would they not move somewhere else?Ē Billy quickly learned that there was absolutely nothing else to do then grow potatoes and the travel through the desert was too long and too dangerous for people to travel farther west. So Billy decided that he would grow more potatoes than any man or family and make the most out of his time in Idaho.

††††††††††† Billy rented land from one of the landlords and began to settle into his own potato farm. As Billy was beginning to prepare for his first crop, he assembled all of his tools from Ohio. Billy brought out his trusty reaper and began to get to work. All of a sudden he was stopped by the local sheriff, hired to protect the interests of the landlords by the landlords. When Billy was threatened to be arrested, he inquired to what law he was breaking. As far as Billy was concerned he legally rented the land and he was just beginning to plow. The sheriff informed Billy that the reaper was under strict patent and only permission from the landlords would permit a person to use the reaper. Billy thought that this was absolutely absurd, the reaper had revolutionized the agriculture industry and made farming much easier and lowered the costs of labor. The sheriff told Billy that patents and copyrights were intended to encourage innovation in Idaho. Billy knew that the landlords did not invent the reaper but were just the first people to register it in Idaho. Without the landlords permission there was no way that Billy was going to be able to produce as many potatoes as he had hoped to.

††††††††††† After Billy had grown his first batch of potatoes he decided to sell them to the local market so he could pay next monthís land rent. On his way to the market Billy caught wind that a horrible illness had swept over western Idaho. Everyone was getting sick, so sick that they were not able to work. With a smaller supply of workers growing potatoes, the wages would increase, the demand for labor would rise. Billy knew that this could only be good for the workers, and only bad for the employers. After Billy got to thinking about he reasoned that the increase in the cost of labor would mean that fewer workers would be hired and therefore less people growing potatoes. This meant that each unit of land would produce fewer potatoes. With fewer potatoes per each unit of land, the marginal product of land would fall. With land becoming less valuable, the land rent too would fall.

††††††††††† As Billy watched over the next couple of weeks, he was correct in his predictions. The wages of the workers increased as the price to rent land fell. Now this did not mean that more potatoes were being grown, but the gap between the classes began to shrink. Seeing this Billy was satisfied, he decided to leave Idaho with the thought that the rich were becoming poor and the poor were becoming rich.