The importance of rural America — different strokes for different folks?

From farmer Joel Salatin, August 18, 2013, via the Polyface Farm FB page:

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Photo: USDAgov/Flickr

Why do we need more farmers? What is the driving force behind USDA policy? In an infuriating epiphany I have yet to metabolize, I found out Wednesday in a private policy-generation meeting with Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McCauliffe. I did and still do consider it a distinct honor for his staff to invite me as one of the 25 dignitaries in Virginia Agriculture for this think-tank session in Richmond.

It was a who’s who of Virginia agriculture: Farm Bureau, Va. Agribusiness Council, Va. Forestry Association, Va. Poultry Federation, Va. Cattlemen’s Ass., deans from Virginia Tech and Virginia State–you get the picture. It was the first meeting of this kind I’ve ever attended that offered no water. The only thing to drink were soft drinks. Lunch was served in styrofoam clam shells–Lay’s potato chips, sandwiches, potato salad and chocolate chip cookie. It didn’t look very safe to me, so I didn’t partake. But I’d have liked a drink of water. In another circumstance, I might eat this stuff, but with these folks, felt it important to make a point. Why do they all assume nobody wants water, nobody cares about styrofoam, everybody wants potato chips and we all want industrial meat-like slabs on white bread?

But I digress. The big surprise occurred a few minutes into the meeting: US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack walked in. He was in Terry McCauliffe love-in mode. And here is what he told us: for the first time–2012– rural America
lost population in real numbers–not as a percentage but in real numbers. It’s down to 16 percent of total population.

I’m sitting there thinking he’s going to say that number needs to go up so we have more people to love and steward the landscape. More people to care for earthworms. More people to grow food and fiber. Are you ready for the shoe to drop? The epiphany? What could the US Secretary of Agriculture, at the highest strategic planning sessions of our land, be challenged by other leaders to change this figure, to get more people in rural America, to encourage farming and help more farms get started? What could be the driving reason to have more farmers? Why does he go to bed at night trying to figure out how to increase farmers? How does the President and other cabinet members view his role as the nation’s farming czar? What could be the most important contribution that increasing farmers could offer to the nation? Better food? Better soil development? Better care for animals? Better care for plants?

Are you ready? Here’s his answer: although rural America only has 16 percent of the population, it gives 40 percent of the personnel to the military. Say what? You mean when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, the bottom line–you know all the cliches–the whole reason for increasing farms is to provide cannon fodder for American imperial might. He said rural kids grow up with a sense of wanting to give something back, and if we lose that value system, we’ll lose our military might.

So folks, it all boils down to American military muscle. It’s not about food, healing the land, stewarding precious soil and resources; it’s all about making sure we keep a steady stream of youngsters going into the military. This puts an amazing twist on things. You see, I think we should have many more farmers, and have spent a lifetime trying to encourage, empower, and educate young people to go into farming. It never occurred to me that this agenda was the key to American military power.

Lest I be misread, I am not opposed to defending family. I am not opposed to fighting for sacred causes. I am violently opposed to non-sacred fighting and meddling in foreign countries, and building empires. The Romans already tried that and failed.

But to think that my agenda is key to building the American military–now that’s a cause for pause. I will redouble my efforts to help folks remember why we need more farmers. It’s not to provide cannon fodder for Wall Street imperialistic agendas. It’s to grow food that nourishes, land that’s aesthetically and aromatically sensually romantic, build soil, hydrate raped landscapes, and convert more solar energy into biomass than nature would in a static state. I can think of many, many righteous and noble reasons to have more farms. Why couldn’t he have mentioned any of these? Any?

No, the reason for more farms is to make sure we get people signing up at the recruitment office. That’s the way he sees me as a farmer. Not a food producer. When the president and his cabinet have their private conflabs, they don’t see farmers as food producers, as stewards of the landscape, as resource leveragers. No, they view us as insurance for military muscle, for American empire building and soldier hubris. Is this outrageous? Do I have a right to be angry? Like me, this raw and bold show of the government’s farming agenda should make us all feel betrayed, belittled, and our great nation besmirched.

Perhaps, just perhaps, really good farms don’t feed this military personnel pipeline. I’d like to think our kind of farming has more righteous goals and sacred objectives. Vilsack did not separate good farmers from bad farmers. Since we have far more bad farmers than good ones, perhaps the statistic would not hold up if we had more farmers who viewed the earth as something to heal instead of hurt, as a partner to caress instead of rape. That America’s farms are viewed by our leaders as just another artery leading into military might is unspeakably demeaning and disheartening.

Tragically, I don’t think this view would change with a different Democrat or Republican. It’s entrenched in the establishment fraternity. Thomas Jefferson, that iconic and quintessential agrarian intellectual, said we should have a revolution about every half century just to keep the government on its toes. I’d say we’re long overdue.

Now when you see those great presidentially appointed cabinet members talking, I just want you to think about how despicable it is that behind the facade, behind the hand shaking and white papers, in the private by-invitation-only inner circles of our country, movers and shakers know axiomatically that farms are really important to germinate more military personnel. That no one in that room with Terry McCauliffe, none of those Virginia farm leaders, even blinked when he said that is still hard for me to grasp. They accepted it as truth, probably saying “Amen, brother” in their hearts. True patriots, indeed.

It’ll take me awhile to get over this, and believe me, I intend to shout this from the housetops. I’ll incorporate in as many public speeches as I can because I think it speaks to the heart of food and farming. It speaks to the heart of strength and security; which according to our leaders comes from the end of a gun, not from the alimentary canal of an earthworm. Here’s to more healthy worms.

Students at the University of Arkansas heard quite a different story from the Secretary of Agriculture (U of A Newswire):

Vilsack Emphasizes Importance of Rural America

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilack talks to students at the University of Arkansas in April 2013. Newswire photo.

“FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spent a busy day on campus Tuesday interacting with students and many others as the featured speaker for the second annual Dale and Betty Bumpers Distinguished Lecture Series. The event was hosted by the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

Vilsack visited with an honors class early Tuesday, was the guest at a luncheon with friends and supporters of the Bumpers College, addressed a crowded E.J. Ball Courtroom at the School of Law, answering many questions from students, met with local media for a news conference and attended a reception in the atrium of the School of Law before leaving campus.

In his lecture, Vilsack, who served two terms as governor of Iowa and served in the Iowa State Senate early in his political career, emphasized the importance of rural America and farming, and how the nation benefits.

“To live and work in America means you have access to a tremendous amount of food, and most of it is produced here,” he said. “We would not have to import anything. We are a very food-secure nation, but there are very few nations that can say that.”

Vilsack said Americans typically spend 6 to 15 cents per dollar on food compared to 10 to 20 cents per dollar in other countries, giving Americans more flexibility with their paychecks.

He also touched on energy sources – oil, natural gas, wind and solar, and how most of that comes from rural America; that 16 percent of our population lives, works and raises its family in rural areas, but 40 percent of the nation’s military personnel come from those areas; and that 32,000 farms produce 50 percent of our food. He also discussed the short-, medium- and long-term threats to agriculture.

“Our short-term threat is we don’t have enough people to do the work that needs to be done on farms and in processing plants,” he said. “We have had a broken immigration system for years, and it threatens the survival of agriculture. The nation needs comprehensive immigration reform that addresses agricultural jobs. We have food rotting because we don’t have the work force we need. If we don’t address this issue, we will end up seeing agribusiness moving operations elsewhere.”

The medium-term threat is “far too many young people look for better opportunities off the farm.” He said there are more farmers 65 years old and older than 35 years old and younger.

He said the long-term threat is the climate.

“The year before last, we had floods; last year, we had droughts,” he said. “Hurricanes and tornadoes are more severe. It’s getting warmer and the weather is getting more intense. We need a strategy to produce more food with less water. We need that research now.”

Vilsack also discussed the importance of the farm bill and the need to expand conservation opportunities. He noted outdoor recreation is a $656 billion annual industry.

“We spend a lot of money to hunt, fish, hike and bike,” he said. “We also need to expand our local and regional food systems.”

In the question and answer session, he was asked how this generation of college graduates may shape agriculture policy.

“You have the ability to redefine what it means to be rural and do a better job of educating people about agriculture to meet our critical challenges,” he responded. “The USDA is a representative of the people we work for and understands what career opportunities there are. You have to take a chance on rural America and come back to your small town with your talent.”…”

Read more on Newswire.

In the song below, note the line, “I volunteered for the army on my birthday” (3:04). Obviously, he’s from rural America, where the old values are still strong.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “The importance of rural America — different strokes for different folks?

  1. the Bovine

    Well, so much for the theory that the UN’s Agenda 21 is set to re-wild vast swaths of what is currently America’s farmland. How would that mesh with wanting more farmers, more rural citizens? Though the widespread practice of fracking (see the documentary Gasland) does seem to be making the landscape less habitable — poisoning the groundwater and whatnot. But of course it’s hard to know whether that’s the primary intention.

    Without an ongoing supply of fresh youths to drive America’s military might, how would the empire grow and prosper? But would a UN agenda be premised on what’s best for America? Aren’t all these recent wars such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and in future quite possibly Syria and Iran, intended to bankrupt and ruin America as a nation? Is there any other country on earth with a stronger tradition of strong individualism and will to resist globalism than the United States?

    And if destroying America — home of the brave and land of the free — is on the globalist agenda, why should the globalists care if there’s an ongoing supply of young men to power the US military? Once America has been destroyed, they may well round up people into the cities and let the countryside revert to unpopulated wilderness, all in the name of “sustainability”.

    Video below about the future adventures of the man who directed “Gasland”:

  2. Beverley Viljakainen

    Thanks for this, Joe. Why am I not surprised? The handwriting is definitely on the wall . . . and needs to be read closely and acted upon responsibly in every corner of the planet! But, first, we need to WAKE UP to the realities that surround us . . .

  3. Pingback: snapshots and links. | violicious

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