This piece is about us, not the folks living in concrete and steel, rather about America’s farmers and meat producers. If you don’t occasionally take the road less traveled, you will soon miss seeing the true pride of America, the family farm. It is inevitable, but sad. The reality is that we are watching the transformation of farming into just another mega business with all emphasis on the bottom line. Along with the gobbling up of family farms by mega corporations we are watching small town America dry up. How profoundly sad.
Dad was a professional warrior. Mom was a farmer’s daughter. I was blessed to see much of the world, worth seeing, as a result of dad’s experiences and still gain insight into a 70 acre cotton and tobacco patch in rural South Carolina. My agricultural education was further honed on a medium sized row crop operation courtesy of Sharon’s parents. Both farms required business savvy and experience. It isn’t as easy as seeding the ground and harvesting a crop, an art that our newest generations may never be exposed to. I loved every minute my boots were in dirt.
Sharon and I love to drive the roads less traveled. I smile when I drive by a Missouri Century Farm, knowing that successive generations of farm folks have not capitulated to the corporate raiders that have bought every acre they can, cleaned every ditch and hedgerow and planted the margins that were once home to coveys of quail. In 1985 Missouri, we were home to 23,000 individual pork producers, a number reduced to 2,000 today. How big are these operations that are relegating the family farm to a historical reference? Virginia based Smithville Foods has 1,000,000 brood sows on the ground. In the 1970’s, our Agriculture Secretary, Earl Bautz, championed the mantra of “get big or get out”. Thanks Earl, for encouraging the demise of a noble family enterprise. In 1990, family farms accounted for about half of productive acreage. Today it accounts for less than a quarter.
The demise of the family farm is eroding rural America’s wealth and political power. This is easy to see in the last election process when rural America wasn’t accorded the respect that is centered in our big cities. The talking heads were not at all concerned with what we say in farm country, rather the concern was in the cities. As a kid, I loved to go to town and visit McIntyres store, a feed and farm store, with it’s unique aromas of seed, chicks and turkey poults. The HVAC was a giant fan, blowing dust on wood plank flooring. Farm equipment was simple back then, much of it still involving a sturdy mule in well oiled traces. Thank you Lord, for giving me those wonderful memories.
Our recent drive to South Carolina, much of it on secondary roads, confirmed this unfortunate transformation. Still visible were old farmsteads and the occasional small farm with equipment in a machinery shed and evidence of denim and chambray uniformed folks running the show. If you have not done so, please expose your kids and grand kids to these last vestiges of a beautiful and honest way to make a living. The smell of freshly turned earth or freshly mowed hay is a wonderful way to begin a day. Take them to a country cafe and sit among the jeans and work shirts worn by people whose opinions are most often grounded in fact and where neighbors rely on each other. Walk them among the farm markets where real producers bring home grown produce to be sold at the prevailing market, (careful here, there are frauds selling boxed produce from big distributors among them). Teach them the differences in tomatoes, melons and fruit. We must not lose sight of the wonderful opportunities to see and understand food production.
In closing, it is sad that politicians don’t get out of their cars on a rural road and talk across the fence with a hog producer, beef producer or row crop farmer. You just might learn a hell of a lot more in that conversation than you will on a big city street. Most importantly there is very little likelihood you will be shot or knocked in the head. A little manure on your glossy loafers won’t hurt a thing and there will be little, if any, pretense.
Have a great weekend and week ahead!