As Donald Trump takes office, many have wondered about the voters in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio who helped swing the election in Trump’s favor. The Allegheny Front has been talking with Trump supporters who have a special interest in the environment, like coal miners and hunters. This week, Julie Grant visits with an Ohio farmer.
On their farm in eastern Ohio, Kenny Merrick and his family have 50 cows, 10 pigs and one very enthusiastic 80-pound puppy named Zeus. Their farm sits right next to the one Merrick grew up on, milking cows at his family’s traditional dairy farm.
“As far as how cows were taken care of on the pasture, that was the same,” Merrick says. “Everything else I do on the farm is quite different than the way my dad raised me. Timing a crop. Harvest. I’m trying to harvest for quality. He tries to harvest for quantity. And I’m trying to do it more sustainable than the way I grew up.”
Merrick and his wife sell grass-fed beef and pork direct to customers. I visited their farm last year to report on a project to clean up the stream here, but I found their personal stories just as intriguing.
Merrick’s wife, who preferred her name not be used, came from Japan in 2000. She has a green card, and after earning her master’s at Yale, she met Merrick while starting her PhD at Ohio State University. The two of them asked why I wanted to talk with them again. I explained that after we met the first time, it occurred to me that I really couldn’t tell how Kenny Merrick was going to vote. He held some traditional rural values, but he also sounded to me like a liberal local food advocate. “Most people know my opinions, because I never really hold back. I say what I want to say,” Merrick says.
It turns out he voted for Donald Trump. “Personally, I don’t really like career politicians. Major issues for us? Fuel price. Being self sufficient.”
Merrick means he doesn’t want the government telling him what to do on his land. This seems to be his major philosophy. He says he doesn’t closely follow the news or normally trust journalists. And although he has participated in a clean water project on his farm, he’s not familiar with many environmental policies. When it comes to environmental protection, he doesn’t think we need so many rules and regulations. He believes people just need to do the right thing.
“There’s too much,” he says. “What is Trump going to do about it, what is Congress going to do? Why the hell don’t you get out and clean the trash up out of the street in front of your house; why don’t you quit fertilizing your yard to that extent; why don’t you be more realistic about how you bag your leaves, instead of bagging them up and taking them to a landfill? Why don’t you grind them up and leave them in the yard, like I do? Same thing with the corn in the field. Take that onto yourself, don’t look to somebody else to do it.”
“Most people know my opinions, because I never really hold back. I say what I want to say. Personally, I don’t really like career politicians. Major issues for us? Fuel price. Being self sufficient.”
Merrick concedes that sometimes laws and agreements are needed—for example, in dealing with global climate change. Still, even on that issue, he’s a bigger advocate of personal action.
“If you really are genuinely interested in this, start putting up your solar panels, windmills, look at some alternative sources. Make a change yourself. Limit the amount of power you consume.”
Another issue for Merrick: immigration policy. Specifically, migrant labor. Many farmers hire people from Mexico and elsewhere to plant crops or harvest fruits and vegetables. The issue has come up for Merrick in his off-farm job, where he hires people for a landscaping company.
“What we pay people to start out now, with zero skill, zero education, to get them to do the same job that the migratory workers will do, the guys that I’m trying to hire here will come to work for two or three days and say, ‘I ain’t doing that, that’s beneath me.’ This work has to get done.”
Trump campaigned on keeping American jobs for Americans. But he has also talked about needing foreign labor for his businesses. Kenny Merrick is hopeful that that experience will help the new president see why the foreign worker visas are needed.
LISTEN: Kenny Merrick Talks About Why He Voted for Trump
But Merrick doesn’t literally believe things that Trump says—like the plan to build a wall on the country’s southern border.
“We all know that to try and build a wall all the way across Mexico is ridiculous. It’s not going to happen.”
Merrick also expresses doubts that Trump will move forward with a registry for Muslims in the U.S.
“I know that it’s been stated, but he can’t just go out and force everybody to sign a damn paper saying ‘I’m Muslim’ or ‘I’m not Muslim.’”
Many people fear Trump’s views hearken back to the forced internment of Japanese people in the U.S. during World War II—something which doesn’t sit as well with Merrick’s wife. In an email, she told me that she’s worried—about how strict immigration policies could affect her ability to get a job, to visit her family in Tokyo, and also about xenophobia in this rural Ohio community.
As a couple, she and Kenny have figured out a way to manage their differences of opinion. Merrick says that when he told her he voted for Donald Trump, she responded with silence.
“That’s probably why we get along so well. We don’t discuss religion or politics.”