TO MY FRIENDS IN AGRICULTURE:
Indianapolis Star Columnist Erika Smith recently wrote about the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood of Indy. She told the story of Justin Moore, a resident of the area whose grandfather was the agricultural director for Flanner House in the mid-20th century. Inspired by his grandfather, Moore and his family are trying to educate their inner-city neighborhood about self-sufficiency.
Smith described their mission this way:
“We’re talking about teaching people how to grow their own food, how to can it, how to cook it. How to sew so that people can make and repair their own clothing. How to renovate their own homes, repair their own appliances and build their own raingardens. And most of all, how to reconnect with their neighbors and rebuild the social cohesion that has been lost over time.”
The Moores want to create community. And they realize that two of community’s building blocks are ingenuity and productivity.
“We have just become consumers,” Joyce, Moore’s mom, says in the article. “We forgot how to do for ourselves. And it’s important people know that.”
Do you hear what the Moores are say, my friends in ag? They recognize their lifestyle is one of consumption, and they want to engage in the processes involved with production.
I know you are acutely aware of the gap between producers and consumers. You encounter it every day when you turn on the news, visit social media sites and talk to those outside your rural communities. I know you often hear hurtful and false things about your practices, farms and way of life.
If you read my bio, you know I’m not a farmer. I didn’t know the difference between a Holstein and Jersey cow until I got to college. But I know enough about agriculture to see an opportunity for you.
You hold important knowledge about what makes communities. You understand the need to invest yourself in a single place for the long-haul, make wise use of your resources and act with integrity in everything. I’m not the only one who recognizes this. Smith described it this way:
To many older people, and perhaps those who grew up or still live in Central Indiana’s rural communities, all of this may sound like a no-brainer. Of course, you have gardens. Of course, you can food for the winter. Of course, you learn how to repair a leak in your roof. Of course, you depend on your neighbors for help.
I’d add an important item to Smith’s list. You know that community doesn’t happen— it’s made. It’s made by offering your garden’s bounty to those nearby. It’s made by sharing a tractor with your neighbor, and helping him repair his truck. It’s made by inviting people into your home for a meal. It’s made by serving at your church, volunteering with PTA, and showing up at
the town meetings.
You also know that anything worth making takes hard work. I remember sitting in an ag econ class at Purdue and being shocked hearing the stories of my fellow classmates putting in 80, 90, and 100 hour weeks during planting and harvest. Your work ethic is the quiet force behind your communities.
So I have a question for you. Will you engage in this conversation about what makes community? I think we’re ready to learn from you. You know consumers are concerned about some of you practices, and it might take people time to trust you. So be patient as people quiet the buzz of the media and learn to listen to you, not just listen to what’s said about you.
And I think there’s an opportunity for you to learn too. The Moores are making themselves vulnerable as they figure out how to make the place where they live better. That vulnerability in seeking out solutions to problems sets a model for anyone to follow. I know that you bear the burden of producing a lot of food to feed a lot of people; I don’t envy you. But I challenge you not to bear the burden alone. Make yourself open to learning new ideas and having conversations with unconventional allies.
I believe the future of agriculture is bright in the United States because of the men and women like you. Share the wisdom you have with burgeoning leaders, and be ready to listen to their good ideas too.
Thanks for reading,