Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Spiderman says 'Keep Missouri Farming'

"With great power comes great responsibility".

This quote carries the weight of truth, whether you recognize the source as Voltaire....or Spiderman.  We bandy about words like "power", "rights" and "responsibility" like we are juggling beanbags, not the heavy cornerstones of society they represent.  We shouldn't use these words lightly; they are massive, weighty, burdened with meaning.

We farmers need to keep this quote in mind as we ask our neighbors across the state to vote  "yes" in a couple of weeks for Amendment 1, the Right to Farm amendment.  We are using the word "right", the same word we apply to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to worship; it is no small thing to ask for a right.

Why do farmers feel compelled to ask for this right?  Like the Founders who enumerated these privileges because they understood what it was to be without them, farmers are beginning to learn what it means to be denied the right to farm.  To people who have learned at their parents' knees that farming is synonymous with stewardship, that the future depends on the present, that  success is counted in generations, not just balance sheets, the  current climate of suspicion, distrust, and animosity comes as a complete shock.

I buy my food at my hometown grocery.  We buy beef from a nearby farmer and can as much of the garden's bounty each summer as we are able. When I am at home in Tarkio, I'm pretty much a locavore, buying my food within shouting distance. I neither know nor care whether my neighbors drive an hour to a different grocer (for variety), or a big box store (to save money), or to visit a truck farm or farmers' market   (because fresh or organic or knowing where the food originated is tops on their list).  I believe in the rights of my neighbors to buy the food they want to eat where they wish, based on the criteria important to their families. Our daily bread, in this rich rich country of ours, comes from a cornucopia of options.

Not everybody is satisfied with this situation.  Some people believe that people ought not to choose what they eat; they should eat only what is "good" for them..arbitrated by certain criteria, rather than the multi-faceted means our freedom affords us now.  Never mind deciding what to eat by speed or ease or proximity or economy, or any other way consumers vote with their food dollar. There is a narrow  moral component in this argument, a right and a wrong way to eat that goes against the grain of American individualism in a way that is at odds with the prevailing winds of this modern society.

The food police are not content to shout atop their soapboxes on the street corners of America.  No, they have carried this fight to the hinterlands where food is produced.  They sing a song of sixpence to moms at home and chefs in restaurants, a pocket full of scientific factoids and fear and a pie of nonsensical assurances if they just eat "right".  How do they plan to achieve "happily ever after?" The combined straitjackets of public opinion and regulation leave food producers gasping for air and wondering whether they are crazy...or the rest of the world is.

It is this battle that Missouri's Right to Farm joins.  On the side of agriculture are farms of all sizes, growing everything from acres of grain to beefsteaks and bacon on the hoof to wines for fine dining to perishable herbs and greens peddled hand to hand at farmers' markets.  A huge number of the farms you see sporting those orange and white Amendment 1 signs are like our farm....multi generational family businesses that not only work together but see each other at birthday parties, tball games, and church. Farms begun by a mom and a dad, who raised some kids there in mud and dust, good times and hard times.  Maybe some kids came back, to work the same land....and expand the business because that meant a good life for growing families and the communities they belonged to.  With hard work and good fortune, maybe this family farm was able to welcome grandkids...and great grandchildren as well.  The lettered roads of our state are home to many farms with the century sign in the yard and the legacy of success and sacrifice it represents. This agriculture is what I know, what our family represents, and what is threatened by nay sayers with the notion that they can not only predict the behavior of a business by its size, its practices and its business organization, but foresee what will be necessary to meet the future needs of a hungry planet.

Why does agriculture need this special protection?  Why not shoe stores or ice cream shops or body shops or hair dressers?  Because agriculture is so land dependent: what affects the land envelops agriculture like a blizzard. The threat could be a listing of a new endangered species; a change in water rights or the interpretation of a regulation; a decision about greenhouse gases.Or it might be a vote to outlaw GMO crops.

And agriculture employs such a small number of operators. We farmers hear ad nauseum the statistic that we are but 2 percent of the population of the US and that we feed the other 98 percent as well as ourselves.  This is asymmetry on steroids and we farmers know that even our best PR efforts are but a thumb in the dike of overweening ignorance, if not antagonism.  I wish I could take every skeptic to work with me for a day, to see how we live with, in, surrounded by and dependent upon the soil, sky, water, and people of our immediate environment.  My kids rolled in, dug in, and lost their boots in the earth and mud of our home place.  We drank the water from the wells in the midst of our crops...and still do.  Farmers do their best to avoid utter failure, but nothing can make growing plants and animals cookie cutter, turn key, or risk free. The pejorative use of the term "industrial'' cannot change the essential earthiness of  farming.  Successful agriculture is a business....but it is an "exceptional" business, surviving and thriving because it is family based.  A vocation in farming is a life of risk, rarity, and vitality.  It is not easy and no one prescription can ensure a food supply that will meet all needs, desires and avoid every newsworthy pitfall of the moment. We need flexibility to solve not just the problems of today, but those that lie in the unseen and unforeseeable future.

As a mom and now a grandmother, my experiences place me smack dab in the middle of five generations of rural life in Atchison county.  My husband's grandfather lost a farm in the Depression, shucked corn by hand, and finally drove an eight row combine until he could no longer climb the steps.  His son and wife raised three sons to plant it, weed it, feed it, and fix it yourself when it breaks.  We came back to this during some tough times, built greenhouses after hours, and now welcome another generation to work and raise their families.  This story is not unique; rather it is the chapter and verse of Missouri farming.  Amendment 1 cannot enshrine agriculture in a glass bubble, but it will assure Missouri farmers that they can hope and plan for the future of their farms and their families on the land they love.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mystic Chords of Memory

Icons and cliches stack one upon the other like a giant Jenga game in middle America on Independence Day. With bombs bursting in air and bottle rockets providing a snap, crackle, pop, I happily open albums to the past and anticipate the celebrations to come.

No orchestrated extravaganzas await us small town citizens:

Old Glory 1983
....unless you take this invitation's hype to heart! This Old Glory is the flag from my grandfather's funeral; he was a veteran of WWI. My father hung the flag high in the old cedars in the front yard....it is a very large banner....
My sister salutes 1983

Lee and Annie at flag raising circa the 4th in 1987
And as impressive and respected and photographed July 4 2014 as it was a generation ago..
Ben, Kenzie and Levi, 2014

Aaron, Lizzie and Josh, 2014

Levi and I check out the big flag, 2014

The 4th of July is a holiday full of emotion for me. I love the sense of unity, of common cause, in the ways we Americans celebrate our Declaration of Independence. I love the highways roaring with RVs the size of a city lot, of gleaming motorcycles sporting mini Stars and Stripes, the packed parking lots of IHops and Waffle Houses, Casey's and Quik Trips, the rockin' and rollin' giant inflatable gorillas and dirigibles at the fireworks' emporiums.
I treasure the family picnics and barbeques, lakeside, in backyards, in shaded parks or blistering ball fields.
Annie with her patriotic cake, 1987
Abbie, July 4th, 2009
Joshie needs some ice cream, July 4th, 2011
We are All-Americans, young or old, earning our pie or ice cream on the field of play and making the long hot daylight hours of July pass quickly in sweat and laughter.

Hmm..Annie....1990s.  Nice horseshoe form. 
Josh with a patriotic popcorn cake, 2014

Gabe at bat, 2014

Ben throwing shoes, 2014

Ben, taking a swing
Aaron, 2012

Abbie, taking a lead, 2014
Aaron makes contact. 2014
Behind every good sport, there is a crowd. At the end of the game, a shady spot waits...
Lee, Annie, 1986
Grandma and Grandpa watching, 1986

Levi on the "blue tractor, with Mommy and Papa Blake

Lizzie and Aaron watching the horseshoe game, 2014

In the breezeway, 1983
Lee, Annie, Granny, 1983

In the market breezeway, 2014

Josh, Levi sharing a tractor seat, 2014

Central Dairy sherbert, Annie and Kenzie, 2014
This is little America,but our holiday is not complete without a band. If no parade presents itself and no band marches by, we will be our own...
Granny leads the band, 1983

Annie is a band unto herself, 1983
More musicians, 1983

Well, festive, 1983

Levi with a big hit, 2014

And Lizzie is sweet to share, 2014

Lizzie, Thomas, and a rocket
There might be a float..or a juggler....
Ben showing off for Josh, 2014

We cheer and salute our own personal flyover:
Abbie, 2011

Brooks, with the flyover, 2011
The faces change with time and age, but the spirit is the same. The sun settles behind the trees; its falling rays turn the fields to gold....
Aaron, 2011
..and gilds the Lady Who Lost Her Car Keys and the 1912 Redbarn

Leapin' Lizzie, 2014
It's the perfect time of the day for champagne party pops, for sparklers, for smoke bombs and for parachutes. The youngest can participate in the wonder of sound and light; the oldest can see it all over again through the kids' new eyes.
Kenzie helps Josh chase a parachute, 2014

Kenzie and Levi with a sparkler, 2014

Josh has a 'chute!, 2014

party popper, 2014

smoke bombs, 2014
See!, 2014
Gabe loves it, 2009

Lizzie, 2009

Aaron sets a smoke bomb,2011

Gabe in 2011
Have to check.  Redbarn, 
My mama, 1983

Lee, 1983

Here in Missouri, the dewfall and high flying fireworks bring out goosebumps and oohs and aaahs. In between reports, the night noises remind us that each summer night contains its own quiet life and beauty. The shooters are invisible except for the small glow of the punks. The littlest members of the audience are more than happy to cuddle on laps and more than welcome to do so.
Cool 4th, 2010

Levi and Aaron, 2014


Lizzie does a dance, 2014


From our hilltop perches, we are part of a sound and light conversation. Thus has it been for as many years as I can remember, whether we celebrate north or south. It is bittersweet to revisit a 4th of the past, but cause for thanksgiving that our family takes it so blessedly for granted that these get togethers will be part of our family's story from one year to the next. It gives me pause that this is true for our beautiful nation as well. I head to bed after our show is over, after the spent smoke bombs and fountains have been gathered by flashlight, after we see the grand finale of the enormous spheres of sparks over Jefferson City from about 10 miles out, after the last small child settles to bed, scratching his chiggers.
This glorious day of celebration and tradition is now part of the "mystic chords of memory" for us all.
Josh, Aaron, the big flag, 2014