Intense tragedy struck Pike County this past Thursday night, 20 miles from our doorstep.
We have all heard some of the particulars, as the event made national news. This was an act so violent that it shakes the center of those nearby, either geographically or emotionally. To say the least, the event was extremely unsettling to anybody who cares about the flow of life.
What does the merciless squander of an entire family in a rural community reflect? Where could this phenomenon possibly come from? Is it not a symptom of an issue broad and deep in rural America? Has it not been creeping towards us for several generations now? What is the source of this horrific unintended-consequence? Are we wise enough to own the root of this tragedy? Do we dare ignore it and continue, yet again, with business as usual?
Wendell Berry anticipated this very kind of nightmare in his book, The Unsettling of America, Culture & Agriculture, written in 1986 - 30 years ago. In it he questions the virtue of industrial agriculture, its efficiencies, and its specialists. He wonders how increased yields and fewer weeds will improve quality of life for a farming family. He questions how the removal of livestock from a farm and a landscape, in favor of long winters in Florida, will allow soil to rebuild and biological life, on which civilization depends, to thrive. He questions how one machine replacing the work of a dozen men will provide employment for twelve families. He wonders how the local school will stay open when twelve families leave for work in the city. He wonders what the effect on the community is when a capitalist from out of town, employing "economies of scale" rather than people, buys the local feed mill at bargain price. He questions why fertilizer now has to be bought from agri-businesses, rather than raised on the farm. He doubts the intention of seed companies, promising increased yields through hybridization and lawsuits against saving one's own seed. He can't imagine how animals that evolved to roam could be content confined to a concrete lot, being fed alien foods, the end product of which humans are supposed to consume blindly. He can't understand how "bigger is better" and planting "fence row to fence row", which eliminates rabbits, will help the community. He can't imagine how Californian vegetables at the local supermarket are better than those from one's own garden... He lamented the industrialization of agriculture, and foresaw its undoing of rural communities.
Wendall Berry was indeed prophetic. The countryside is now distressed and very ill... Schools and shops have closed in small towns. Feedstuffs are grown for animals in distant lands, without a bite to eat for local families. Children are growing up malnourished and obesity is epidemic. Immense agricultural equipment stops traffic and financially overextends its owners. Economies-of-scale are thriving, creating operations of tens of thousands of acres, managed by a few men and endless amounts of machinery. Round-up is sprayed on fields every spring, saturating the soil and leaving toxic residue in crops and in animals fed those crops and in those grains and meats consumed by humans. Land-grant universities are owned by chemical companies, skewing research. Local jobs are scarce, forcing expensive, lonely commutes to urban centers. Bright children depart, not to return. Main Streets are supported by itinerant tanning salons and thrift shops. Welfare and drugs have become the only reliable source of income with which to pay bills. Patches of marijuana plants and dens of methamphetamine become the last salvation, by default, not by choice... Sickness pours from the eyes of these afflicted!
Over the past fifty years, the efficiencies of industrial agriculture have all but annihilated the heart and soul of rural America. Its fabric is exhausted and threadbare. The evidence is everywhere that this version of agrarian capitalism has been destructive to agricultural communities. Most honest observers would concede that.
We need a new paradigm and new hope for the ailing countryside, still so exquisitely beautiful in accents of dogwoods and trillium. Fortunately, we have one and you are part of it.
It lies in farms like ours and the Mancinos' and the Eatons' and all others at farmers markets, which farms lie deep in the country, serving as beacons of hope within regions of despair. Thirty years ago, our farm participated in the industrial model, and didn't even support one family full-time. Over the past 25 years, we have steadily converted it from producing food for animals to producing food for people. The land is now "certified organic" and we are rebuilding topsoil. The farm currently provides the majority of income for four families, which number is anticipated to double in the next ten years.
What specifically can you do to mitigate the wanton deaths of a family of eight in rural Pike County this past week? First, you can care, holding the pain of this ongoing tragedy in your prayers and meditations, so it may dissipate... This is no small task and may be more important than anything else. Second, you can provide support to farmers who are on the front lines in rural areas, so they may continue to serve as beacons of hope. You are already doing that, by buying their foods at farmers markets, and it makes a profound difference, about which you should feel good. Third, you can help find investors to secure land near farms like ours, so we can attract additional talent to train those who want to move out of despair and into hope, through production and marketing of grassfed foods.
It will take a large collective effort to revive rural America, but it can be done, one person and one organization at a time. Urban centers have a deep vested interest in the success of the countryside, so plentiful food, water, and wildlife will be secure into the future. Together we have already begun making a difference. Let us continue to summon courage to act, for rural America awaits us. It will not regain health without the hands and hearts of each of us upon it.
On rare occasions, we sample beef tenderloin for dinner. These filets were cooked for three minutes on each side in a hot skillet, in rendered beef fat, and accompanied by roasted potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, and bernaise sauce. Mouth-watering-ly good!
Because of the Flying Pig Marathon, there is no market this weekend, but we will resume on May 8 at Clark Montessori and them move to the summer market on the Square on May 15.
Last delivery to the corner of Bellecrest & Pape on Wednesday afternoons will be May 11. You may order by going to: http://www.grassrootsfoods.biz/ourproducts/. We will then move home deliveries to Sunday afternoons after the farmers market, saving the cost of an additional trip to Hyde Park.
In the face of rural tragedy and in the partnership of hope with you,
Drausin & Susan