Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell is the story of a duck who is overworked by a tyrannical farmer. As the farmer sits in bed all day, eating chocolate, reading the newspaper, and getting fat, the duck fetches the cow from the field, brings the sheep in from the hill, and puts the hens in their coup. As the story goes on, the farmer grows fatter and the duck grows wearier as his chores pile up. One night, all the farm animals hold a meeting in the barn and decide Enough is Enough! The next day the animals rush in, flip the farmer out of his bed, and chase him off the farm entirely, ridding themselves of the leech who benefitted from the duck’s labor.
It is a cute story of farm animals sticking up for an overworked friend, but its message hit me hard while reading it in a recent story time. As I’m sure you know, we have now begun to charge for the story times that we have been offering the community of Noe Valley for free for almost four years now. It was a decision no one wanted to make, but that was necessary in order to keep the business going strongly in the face of the never ending SF rent problem, and that old boogey man himself, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.
As I was reading the story I couldn’t help but picture the farmer as Jeff Bezos (who I’m sure is working very hard at retaining and expanding his wealth), and his employees (who tirelessly package and deliver our every need right to our doorstep) as the duck. It’s convenient, but is it ethical? Jeff Bezos makes $8,961,180 per hour while his employees make $15/hr according to a recent Business Insider article. Furthermore, it is well known that Amazon does not pay any federal income tax because of subsidies it receives from the federal government. How is a small independently owned bookstore like Charlie’s Corner supposed to compete with a company that can offer the same product for a lower price, all while paying their employee’s less money and letting taxpayers subsidize their employees with food stamps? Well, by offering a human element to the book buying experience. Story time readings, book suggestions with smiling faces, and gift wrapping are a few ways that we try to make Charlie’s a community center where children and adults feel comfortable to explore and find the knowledge they seek. However, these services can only go so far when confronted with a farmer as powerful as Farmer Bezos.
Now, if the duck represents the thousands of minimum wage Amazon workers and Jeff Bezos is the farmer. Who then are the cow, sheep, and hens of the story that are served by the ducks labor? Well, the mass of american people who use Amazon’s taxpayer subsidized services are the cow, sheep, and hens of Waddell’s Farmer Duck. Every dollar you spend here is no doubt a small act of defiance of Amazon’s vast control of the economy, and we are thankful for your business and the opportunity to serve the Noe Valley community. However, if viewed through the lens of Farmer Duck a very small percentage of us cows, sheep, and hens are merely taking our business to a happier albeit much much much much smaller farm and just ever so lightening the load for the poor overworked duck. It helps the duck a little, but his farm spans so far and vast that this act could never truly relieve the poor duck, laboring so hard to keep the farm running, all while reaping none of the benefits.
At the end of Farmer Duck, after having driven the farmer away, the farm animals and the duck all work on the farm together. Having driven the farmer away, they find happiness in working together and being able to collectively reap the fruits of their labor. Children’s books and Farmer Duck in particular are so beautiful because they teach lessons in so simple a way that even young children can understand them. It is easy for a child to see the immorality of the farmer getting fat while the duck does all the work. It’s clear and there is no convoluted argument that could justify the farmers actions. So will we take the lessons from Farmer Duck to heart then? Or will we merely read this story to teach our children empty platitudes about laziness and hard work? Do we practice what we preach, set the example, and toss the farmer out of bed at night and drive him off the farm for good? Or do we turn our heads the other way while the poor duck labors under the farmer’s tyranny?