I’m here in Keytesville, Mo., population 584, talking to around 100 farmers, and they sincerely wish that I would sit down and shut up. We’re in a park on Main Street, the mosquitoes have started biting, they only came for the fish fry, and none of them have any interest at all in hearing what I have to say about farming. I get asked to about five or six of these meetings each fall, and I really should know better.
But, dammit, this stuff is important. Stacked up on the folding table in next to me are a dozen books, all making the case that these overall-clad, church going family men and women are ruining the environment and abusing animals. Worst of all, the way we farmers raise and market food is causing alienation and anomie in the kind of people who go to a farmers market, spend a half of a day with the Sierra Club, and write books instructing farmers how to farm. Though all of these books are quick to point out the damage done by “industrial farming” to the communities where it takes place, the farmers I’m with tonight don’t look to be suffering from a “disconnectedness” from nature. Right now, most of them are spending more time slapping nature, in the shape of the common mosquito, than they are listening to me.
I’ve read books in the past several months authored by a writer for a major magazine, an editorialist for a major newspaper, a former speechwriter for the first President Bush, a philosopher from Princeton, the head of Missouri Sierra Club, and an aging hippy railing against the extra billions of people living on this world because of the successes of “industrial agriculture.” The only thing all these folks have in common is a profound ignorance about growing things and an unwillingness to ask why we farmers do things the way we do. I’m trying to tell my farmer friends that farmers are in great danger of being blindsided by food faddists, organic theologians, and raging vegetarians, but they’re mostly interested in talking about the boom in ethanol plants.
And they may be right. Maybe we’ll make our living raising crops for the energy market, and guys with ponytails can raise food for the rest of you in Community Gardens in Greenwich Village.
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