Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Farmers Can Be Heroes"

This morning, I opened up a box of cereal from Nature’s Path Brand. On the back of the box, they had a full ad for the "Farmers Can be Heroes" program, funded by the Rodale Institute, supporting organic farming as a movement. The photo accompanying was of a young farming couple, attractive in an earthy sort of way, no older than me. It reminded me of some thoughts I’ve been having lately. I’ve been thinking about how the U.S. has gone in more the direction of a service based economy and an investment based economy. Much of our manufacturing has been going overseas, outsourced to less affluent countries with more lenient labor laws. Since the mid to late 1970s, much of the auto industry has been outsourced to Mexico. When rebuilding classic cars in my youth and early 20s, I remember seeing the codes on engine blocks indicating that more and more of these had been produced in Mexico. With much of our auto industry based overseas, and the American workers becoming fewer and fewer, what does it really mean to encourage us to "buy American"? Does it really support the American worker and the American families living in Saginaw and Detroit near abandoned factories? Or does it benefit the very few and the very wealthy who own and operate the Big Three - GM, Ford, and Chrysler - as they import pre-manufactured, foreign made auto parts into this country to be merely assembled by the few remaining employed American auto workers? This, as the Big Three CEOs flew to Washington, DC, last Fall in their corporate jets, to ask Congress for bailout money!

It has dawned on me that while at one time in our history, America encouraged its youth to move away from the farm and obtain an education in order to better oneself and work in a more industrial and technologically oriented industry. The sentiment was, ‘study hard so that you don’t have to work so hard.’ Manual labor was dispensed with so that mental labor could be the source of easy wealth and luxury. If you were smart, you could avoid labor; if you were not as well educated, you were relegated to a life of hard labor. Education was treated as a surefire path to social and economic mobility, undermining and surpassing the class and social boundaries that defined society for thousands of years. So, America was encouraged to become a nation of managers and thinkers rather than producers. But now, where are we? With wealth still concentrated in the hands of a few, many of whom are exporting the means of production to other countries, leaving the American labor force jobless, what are we to do? And with large corporations buying up family farms in droves over the last century, allowing large ‘agribusiness’ to toy with the safety of our food sources by introducing genetically modified organisms and horrible pesticides and unholy chemicals into our food, where are we to go to obtain healthy foods that nurture rather than slowly kill us?

In the last few decades, there seems to have been a movement of highly educated and aware individuals back to the farms. These folk are leaving corporate jobs and urban lifestyles to assume a more simple one, producing responsibly grown foods for themselves and others. With the advent of the internet, a small town farming lifestyle no longer needs to be considered a dead end. It is easier for an educated, artistically-spirited farmer-by-choice to live in the country and yet maintain contact with like-minded artistic and educated people - by the internet, of course.

I would applaud this trend. If more people were to choose to revert back to a more agrarian lifestyles, producing food for themselves and others, rather than merely relying upon agribusiness to make our food decisions for us (a job they will never do responsibly or benevolently), our nation’s best and brightest will be integrally involved in the basic levels of food production. But their lifestyles will not be humdrum and boring. It will not be a lifestyle that their children will seek to run from in order to see the world. Deriving from the perfect marriage between technology and nature, we can continue to have farmlands surrounding and serving larger cities, with the farmers staying connected to the world around them, rather than being isolated as they once were, and the produce of those farms can be more healthy than that derived from agribusiness. And our nation can resume its earlier place in the world economy of being a nation of producers, generating excellent products for the rest of the world.

This is similar to the ideal of robotics taking up the slack of production. This sentiment has pervaded our culture for nearly a century, with robots envisioned as doing the menial and undesirable labor for a society of well-provided humans. But as long as the technology and wealth are owned by a relative few, the robots will be the only ones doing the labor, with the destitute majority of the population unemployed and starving. Robots are only good if everyone owns one. In the meantime, let’s focus on working with our hands and resuming production - homespun clothes, homegrown vegetables, and so forth. By ‘home’, I mean, here at home in the USA, by American workers, intended primarily for an American consumer. The excess that we grow can then be exported.

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