I remember working for the Jefferson Times in the early eighties as if it were yesterday. Well I don’t remember everyday as if it were yesterday, just a few highlights of my 3 1/2 years there as a reporter, photographer and ad salesman.
Up to that fateful day in January when I got the call to interview with the Times owner, David Desautels, I was a non-paid apprentice with White Top’s legendary fiddle maker Albert Hash. I would make the 50 mile round trip everyday for a month or two until we learned that Sandi was pregnant and the prospect of being a luthier took a distant second place to getting a “real” job in order to provide for my soon-to-be family.
Being a reporter was a job I was to hold until Sandi and I went into the mountain basket business and began the crafts show circuit in August of 1983.
Sandi and I arrived in Ashe County in August of 1978 and were quickly married on the hill behind the house we would fix up, rent-free, for the next 5 years. The house had been abandoned several years before and needed our fresh from Michigan touch in order to begin our life in the northwest mountains of North Carolina.
I mention Michigan because I believe that perspective set me apart from the people I worked with—people who had grown up in the country and were sometimes not able to see the changes coming to their quaint village. Arriving from the industrialized north, the rust-belt of America, gave me a glimpse into what was in store for the mountains I lovingly called home.
For instance, in the column I wrote every week for the Times, I often alluded to the fact that tobacco would not always be a crop local farmers could depend upon—the death knell drowned out by the tobacco auctioneers sing-song sales pitch. I also witnessed the birth of the fraser fir Christmas tree industry and saw that this two would not be something that could be counted on for a living if everyone that owned a few acres planted trees and began selling them on light bulb lit vacant lots in small towns everywhere.
My idea at the time was to suggest the local Agricultural Extension agent begin to outline plans that would help the family farmer transition from one type of economy to another, more sustainable source of income—an idea that I don’t think has ever been implemented.
In other words, not everybody can plant cabbage every year. During a good year there is too much and the price plummets. The next year, fewer people plant it and the price is much better. What we need is bio-diversity not too much of one crop and not enough of another.
In my opinion we have reached a place where our local mountain families cannot take care of the area’s nutritional needs if the big-ag trucks were to stop coming in order to stock the shelves of our supermarkets. Not that any area in our vast nation can be 100% self-supporting—the problem as I see it is that there are no plans afoot to even address this eventuality.
The bible has a lot to say about stewardship. In simple terms a steward is: …one who has been given the responsibility to manage or care for someone or something. He’s not the owner. The steward is simply the caretaker. He’s the manager of property belonging to another. From biblical point of view, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” (Psalm 24:1)
Giving away the production of food to large, multi-national corporations, is not being a good steward. Allowing Monsanto and others to patent hybrid, genetically modified seeds, means to me that we have already begun the slippery slide into corporate anarchy. Furthermore, accepting the use of Monsanto’s Roundup on our corn, soybean and wheat crops to control weeds and hasten harvest, is another step towards the twilight zone of agriculture. Just like Enron bet future earnings against their day to day operation, we are risking the health of future generations with these largely untested practices.
What I see we need is a program to begin the re-building of the family farm, which served America for many generations. However, not in the way it was practiced then. I see a system where, on a local level, we begin to produce the crops that are needed on almost a subscription basis. In other words, you grow a crop that will supply 50-100 people for a year or season. One person grows potatoes, another kale, another broccoli and so on down the line. We grow for our area and our people only. The harvest is already spoken for before it is even planted. The local extension service could be the conduit for federal or state or local program money that would be used to get the whole thing started. We would attend classes held specifically for the local grower/participants that would train us to do the work of the family farmer.
Before long, many of us would be growing enough produce to fulfill the needs of our local “clients”. Distribution channels would be created and our farmers markets would thrive on a scale of historic proportions.
Of course, we are not talking about making millions of dollars here. What we are talking about is becoming good stewards and taking back our future from the for-profit corporations that currently control most of what we eat.
This may be a pipe dream, but I believe that this or something similar, is doable and could be a way to even the playing field between the haves and the have nots.
It is certainly worth a little time and effort and would no doubt bring us closer together as a human family on the planet earth.
Not a bad ride indeed.