Oct 5, 2008

Murray, KY – According to former WKMS commentator, Patricia Wiles now on staff for the Madisonville Messenger on Tuesday, May 13, elementary school students from Madisonville attended the sixth annual Youth Ag Day, at the Hopkins County Fairgrounds. These students were treated to hands-on presentations in subjects as diverse as soil erosion, horse grooming, water conservation, farm safety, and the economics of poultry farming. The goal of such programs is to provide our culture with a greater awareness of the fact of our agricultural connections. This is a laudable activity, no doubt, and it ought to be fun for the kids, who after a messy winter and a season of spring testing are glad for any distraction from the tedium of the classroom. But is it enough? Does this kind of glancing salute at farming sufficiently impress on our youth that our lives depend on the ancient art of agriculture? Did the kids who cuddled new-hatched chicks that morning think about their food choices, or blithely order chicken nuggets at their favorite fast food fantasy later that day?

The night before I read the Ag-citing Adventure article, I had finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's 2007 work of creative non-fiction, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In 352 paperbound pages (plus references and contact information), Kingsolver tells the story of her family's year-long commitment to eat responsibly. That is, they restricted their diet to food that was grown locally, and generally organically, and not from the institutions of industrial agronomics: feedlots, confined animal feeding operations, called CAFOs, and huge farming conglomerates such as Con Agra.

Kingsolver's book provides a month-by-month chronology of her family's gardening, shopping, and food preparation, including recipes for the meals they enjoyed, thoroughly, deeply, and nutritiously during the year dishes such as Asian Vegetable Rolls, Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding, Melon Salsa, and Family Secret Tomato Sauce. They had moved to a small farm in the southern Appalachians and so as to disabuse the listener of the notion that this was some sort of communal commie new-age nudist experiment, I mention that Kingsolver raised a crop of turkeys, and her youngest daughter became a kind of free-range chicken egg entrepreneur. Kingsolver writes: If this book is not exactly an argument for reinstating food-production classes in schools (and it might be), it does contain a lot of what you might learn there we have traveled far enough to discover ways of taking charge of one's food, and even knowing where it has been. This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew. She points out that most food found at your local grocery has traveled farther than most people go on their annual vacations, and given the rising cost of energy to transport these items, it just makes good sense to choose local fare. That means cutting out staples like bananas, and instead looking for fruits and vegetables grown locally and available seasonally not demanding fresh strawberries in December, for example.

At one point she claims that yes, there is hope for us. Many of the presumptions we have as a culture about our food supply are wasteful and unhealthy, and come from a near complete lack of realization that our lives are tied to our food supply, and that we had better start being more conscientious about it. Thus I am pleased that the elementary students in Hopkins County had a chance to fondle chicks and smell horse, and what is needed now is for the adults to go to the same fair grounds and visit the farmer's market that operates there on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I'll be shopping there in the future, and thereby supporting the people who can make a real difference in the balance of sustainability that we all must take more seriously.