Today is Febuary 2, ‘Groundhog Day.’ But after 22 years on the job, our local groundhog prognosticator, ‘Sir Walter Wally,’ is nowhere to be seen. He has decided to pack it in and retire. Impeccable timing, I’d say. It’s a miserable day, cold and rainy. I wouldn’t stick my head outside today either, except for the fact that even though I am also retired, I still have a job to do. I’m the ‘reenactor’ for today’s 4th grade field trip to the County Historical Museum. I am the ‘final act’ of the morning’s outing that teaches students about the history of Chatham County. My character, John Brooks, was a ‘subsistence farmer’ during the Colonial period in the early to mid 1700’s.
Invariably, each time I don my period costume and tell my story of what it was like to be a small time farmer nearly three centuries ago in an emerging America, I am stunned by the monumental change in agriculture from then to now. I tell the children about the critical role that agriculture has played throughout the history of Chatham County (and most counties across the land). I tell them that there are still over 1100 small farms scattered across the county that raise livestock and grow vegetables, much of which appear at local ‘farmers’ markets’ throughout the year.
What I don’t tell them because of time constraints and age appropriateness is that this is the ‘exception’ rather than the ‘rule’ in most counties today. I don’t talk about the massive poultry processing operation that dominates agriculture in the western part of the county (an agribusiness that employs many of their parents while also polluting the air, land and waters in which they live). I don’t open the ‘can of worms’ that is modern day ‘Big Ag,’ an industry that while feeding their faces is also feeding the global climate crisis and starving them of a healthy future on a sick and dying planet.
The honest story of modern day agribusiness in America is a morsel of truth no one wants to swallow and that ‘Big Ag’ simply cannot stomach. It’s a story about how we (the world’s human population) are in the process of eating our self to death! That is to say, there is zero chance of hitting the brakes on global warming and getting off the dead end road to climate catastrophe without fixing the broken system that produces the food we eat. Or to put it bluntly, Big Agriculture is killing us. That’s no hyperbole. That’s honest truth, although the Ag lobby would have us believe otherwise.
This unsavory truth is willfully hidden and craftily propagandized by the nation’s most powerful lobby through denial and deception. Pulling back that curtain of deception and revealing the truth about this global warming and polluting behemoth is a video from the New York Times, Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet. Done wrong, agriculture is a killer. But done right, agriculture can also be a mechanism for planting the seeds that bear fruit for a sustainable future. To fashion that future requires reinventing the past, as an endearing New York Times article from March 2021 reveals in My Great-Grandfather Knew How to Fix America’s Food System. You’ll find it to be both delicious and nutritious food for thought (and action). Here’s a sample of the article to tempt your taste buds:
“We must challenge agribusiness monopolies and acknowledge the harm unchecked consolidation has had on our food system. We should aspire, when and where we can, to restore the sort of healthy local food sources and interconnectedness that my Grandpa Dad knew and that once undergirded rural communities.
Many of the problems we’re seeing in rural America today stem not just from the struggles of individual farmers but from the collapse of the larger ecosystems that once nourished them: the towns, associations, neighbors and local industry clusters that encompassed and supported them. This is not a nostalgic desire to simply turn back the clock. It’s paying attention to history.
During the Great Depression, family incomes in Idaho dropped by as much as 50 percent, and many lost their farms to local land banks. The farmers who survived were the ones who helped one another and built a network of solidarity and rapport. Grandpa Dad aided fellow farmers, helping form a mutually supportive community. He worked with and for his neighbors during harvest seasons, lent equipment and labor to those in need, and mentored younger farming couples.
Beyond farming, Grandpa Dad also supported his regional and town economy, investing in both its agriculture-related businesses and in locally owned shops and business owners. Grandpa grew crops for the cannery and creamery in town and the sugar beet factory over the hill as well as for friends and family.”
Be sure to take time to read the whole article.
At the end of the morning as the students were leaving the historical museum one little girl stopped to give me a big hug, which started a chain reaction of hugs galore. That gesture of appreciation and affection was sunshine for the soul on an otherwise cold and rainy day. I pray that the children of this day and age may embrace the many challenges that creating a sustainable and just future will lay before them and their children yet to come.
P.S. As Lent begins later this month, the Creation Justice team of Pittsboro Presbyterian Church invites folks to visit the Greener Lent website at https://greenerlent.org/fast.html and consider signing up for one of the four ‘abstinence levels’ to reduce one’s meat consumption during Lent.