“Who are the folks that work at the White House? Why, they’re a bunch of college professors and community organizers who think they’re smarter than all the rest of us.”
Those are the words of yesterday’s 2014 midterm elections big winner, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is poised to become the Senate majority leader in January 2015. He, and Republicans the land over, ran their campaigns against President Obama. And they won.
HOMEGROWN readers might prefer DIY instructionals about gardening and canning, but that’s not what’s on my mind today. Maybe that’s because I live in a conservative farming community in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because I had to endure a bunch of loony political ads on TV while I was rooting on the KC Royals during their exciting, if unfulfilled, drive for a World Series title. Maybe it’s because of that McConnell quote I heard on NPR Monday evening, blasting the liberal elite professors and community-based organizations trying to stand up to the rich and powerful.
I can’t seem to get Senator McConnell’s venom for people like me—a college-educated liberal who spent years working as a community organizer for family farmers and against the corporate takeover of agriculture—out of my mind. He put into words a very popular sentiment, and those of us working for local food and family farm agriculture need to wrestle with it.
On the face of it, you have to admit it’s pretty easy to make fun of us local food folks. We spend hours thinking about such important topics as how to best preserve the nutritional value of kale in our meals or which is the best breed of chicken to use for a pot of soup stock. (Eighteen-month-old Barred Rock laying hens do great!) I slapped my forehead when, a few years back, President Obama mused on the troubling increase in food prices by asking, “Have you seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods lately?”
No, Mr. President. I have not seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods. I grow my own.
So, yes, we’re easy to poke fun at. We take ourselves too seriously. And that’s a big reason why we’re seen as elitist snobs instead of real people with good ideas about how to improve the economy and environment by having more farmers growing real food in a sustainable manner.
Think about what Senator McConnell is saying: Elections and politics are about a war of cultural symbols. During the Farm Bill mess the past few years, critical nutrition and local food and conservation programs were on the ropes. Some good programs were cut severely; others were eliminated. That’s what we’re facing with a McConnell-led Senate. Who cares about the latte liberals and their food stamp machines at farmers markets? We’ve got corporate taxes to cut.
This is all important because the Good Food Movement needs to figure out how to resonate with a broader population if we are to make the change we seek. It’s important to understand the reality of the people working on these issues. We’re incredibly diverse. Yes, you’ve got your Brooklyn fermented-beverage hipsters, but there are also plenty of off-the-grid conservatives who identify the grandest issue of all as the right to drink raw milk. Go to a “small farm conference” and you’ll see all kinds of weirdos doing interesting things.
I ramble. I know.
Mostly, I’m concerned and frustrated, just like the majority of Americans. I’m sick of a supposedly growing economy that enriches a few at the top while most of us barely scrape by. Heck, my wife had to go back to teaching so we could have health insurance, since it was so hard to make a living off the farm. (In addition to farming, I also work as a writer of grants and such to make extra money). Living without health insurance seemed fine until my son broke his arm while we were building our homestead house, and we wracked up giant hospital bills we couldn’t afford.
My greatest frustration is watching as good people with good ideas who work hard face increasing challenges. Local farm and food enterprises deserve serious support from society, both from “the market” and from public support. It’s a job-creation machine ripe for the picking.
I’ve gotta get back to the compost pile before my head explodes. I’ll try to be more happy and hopeful next time.
Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.
ALL PHOTOS BY HOMEGROWN.ORG MEMBERS: (GIRL WITH RADISH) CITY BLOSSOMS; (CHICKEN COOP) AMY; (HIGH TUNNEL) JESSICA REEDER; (SWEET POTATOES) ASHLEE SHELTON