musings { The Farm Life...?

I've lived and grown in many different settings, city, rural, farm. I've always felt farmer's have a thankless job. Its hard work. Little pay. You do get to see the fruit of your labors (hopefully, if the season/harvest/herd does well). But it doesn't give you magical insight into life. Although you do get to see the circle of life in all its messy, shit-soaked, and painful glory, especially if you're on a dairy farm and its birthing season. God I'll never forget that smell. One thing that has especially bugged me is why everyone thinks the Midwest, places like Kansas know anything about anything beyond the rest of the country? I'm not alone, I found this article.


The rural life, specifically, the agricultural industry, is a massive, important part of our nation's economic well-being. And yes, yes, I've read Kunstler's Long Emergency, and I know that one catastrophic afternoon in the near future, I will rue the day my grandfather gave up the sod to become a cop in the New World. For some people the rural life is an incredibly rewarding way of life. They should be very proud of the fact they have held on to this great tradition of commerce and, one might argue service, in the face of corporate farming. But that life is not holy, it does not bless one with special insight into the intent of the Framers of the goddam Consitution or what America "should" be like. Have I lost some sort of sacred connection with the land? Maybe. But the last time I checked, the land was dirt, same dirt as the rest of the world, and several generations of my family went broke farming other people's dirt, interrupted only when easily annoyed Englishmenwould occassionally show up and burn all their shit down. Pardon me for enjoying my goddam latte.

Now unlike the author, I lived a part of my life on a farm, a dairy farm to be exact. My father had a life long dream of owning a farm and being a farmer and he made his dream come true. The only insights that way of life gives you is how unfair things can actually be, how fucked the American economy is in regards to the, what they call 'owner/operator' which used to be called the 'family farm'. All this, at least it seemed to me didn't give mystical insight, but it gave a deft sense of practicality. You do what works. You don't do what doesn't, pretty simple. You also see directly how your actions have consequences. Don't rake the hay after its been cut and rained on? It goes moldy and useless. Choose not to clean out the barn regularly? You see a spike in the bacteria count of your milk and consequently a drop in value and price you are paid for it, and if its too bad, they will make you dump it.

Oh and my father is no longer a farmer. He gave up that dream a few years ago. Its not a life that is kind to you as you get older.
I agree with the author fully. Middle America has not been a good gauge for anything since perhaps the 1940s when most of the country were still farmers.

And Hollywood is not in touch with anything, most especially reality. Though for the last few years I feel the same can be said about Washington D.C.

1 comment:

AllThingsSpring said...

Some disconnected thoughts:

I was never a farm boy. I grew up in a first-ring suburb, and my adult life has been to a large part about a rejection of both rural and suburban lifestyles. I have been fascinated for years with the urban experience, both its excellence and its failures. Still, I understand that the production of food is a vital and critical job, and those that can and do it are useful and necessary. This is not to say that I would choose it - rural America is a hotbed of Christian fundamentalism and reactionary politics. There are of course islands of sanity and enlightenment everywhere, but my own time in rural America has usually just given me a desire to leave it as quickly as possible.

Also having read Kunstler's The Long Emergency, I can say that it is a life that many, many more people will probably be involved with in the near future. With petroleum resources and chemical production issues rearing, the whole green revolution style of agriculture is in doubt as being sustainable or doable for even the coming decades. We could be back to picking weeds by hand, and that takes a lot of hands. Sharecropping may be an American career once again. But who knows, maybe vertical farming will work.

The city too, as we know it, may have little future, due to the high energy inputs required for modern urban life, although properly done, the city is more efficient than the current approach to rural life, with more energy and resources per person required where there is no density or economy of scale. The suburbs most of all may be doomed, as they are neither productive in the ways a farm will be, nor dense and efficient as a proper city can be.

The culture of rural life is oversold, especially in media. I agree in some (not all) part with political documents such as The Urban Archipelago, which indicate that the heart of liberalism is cities, and that we are wasting energy on the rural minority that will never serve our goals. The true American experience is the amalgam of all these places and ideas.

Still a reconcilliation may be needed, in light of global climate change and peak oil. We will need to embrace something closer to permaculture, and grow food locally, organically, and sustainably. This likely means that a time will come when I'll never eat tropical fruit again, but its probably better than burning off the last few inches of topsoil with boneheaded agricultural technique and a desire for biofuel to run cars a couple more years. With this will come a sense of place and resources. If we can learn and teach future generations to think mindfully of where they are, where their food comes from, where their energy comes from, what products we use require to be made, where they go when we throw them away, and the complete resource cycle from cradle to cradle, to learn from the slow ratchet of evolution and adapt solutions that include biomimicry techniques, then we will be better off. A sense of responsibility, of consequence for our actions, is not a bad thing. The great question in our powerful modern knowledge and facility is not 'can we?', but 'should we?'. The essence of true power is often one of restraint and 'can, but don't, and be able to explain why'.