Monday, January 21, 2008

Young Iowans Don't Like the Stink...

"Livestock pollution turns off young Iowans" is the title of an article by Brian Depew from the Jan. 13th edition of the Des Moines Register. I was turned on to this article by Kelli of Sugar Creek Farm. Lately she has be doing some "Ag Speedlinking" with links to lots of interesting articles. In fact if you haven't been over to her blog I encourage you to check it out just so you can keep up on some of the current issues in farming. But, back to this article...

Mr. Depew grew up in Laurens, IA and currently lives in Nebraska where he works for The Center For Rural Affairs. But, in this article he is writing about a recent trip back to the family farm in Iowa. His family farm will soon be within three miles 13 "industrial livestock" buildings and he points to that as one of the reasons that young Iowans are not staying in the state. He recounts some of the recent efforts by the state to keep young Iowans in Iowa (basically people like me) and offers that one of the reasons people around my age and younger are leaving is because they are looking for "places with vibrant natural resources, thriving communities and healthy economies". He contends that they can't find those things in Iowa because our state government has sat by as the Big-Agri Business has entrenched itself in the state. Also, this embracing of the big business agriculture has squeezed out the small farm families.

While I do agree with that last sentence to a point (I'm not sure I want to blame just the government, because I know a lot of people that have benefited from those big farms), I'm not sure if I fully appreciate or agree with his main idea ... that young Iowas have left because confinement agriculture has ruined our natural resources, killed our small towns, and ruined our economy. I have lived my entire life in Iowa and have no desire to live anywhere else, but all my friends that have left have gone to larger cities or suburbs that offered a completely different lifestyle than Iowa. Not a better lifestyle, just different. I will admit that confinement agriculture does do its damage when it gets out of control and never will I support it as the right choice, but I'm also not going to legislate how people farm ... if I want to change the opinions of people I will do it by providing a great alternative (I think I can).

As I mentioned I agree with much of the ideas behind this article, but I'm not sure if I can take the entire message. Besides, since when did Nebraska become so great :) (really just kidding!!!). I do believe that the changing agricultural world has changed the life and economics of our small towns, but it will take more than legislative reform to change this. It will take people opting out of the "big systems" and beginning to buy locally. It will take farmers willing to do things differently and invite the cities out to their farms to experience, shop, and eat. It will take a cultural shift ... and those always take time and effort, not government.

I appreciate what Mr. Depew wrote and I encourage you to click on the link to the article. It is a nice article with a lot to think about and the responses from readers at the bottom of the article bring out a lot of back and forth discussion. I will say that I hope Mr. Depew buys local food and supports the small farmers in his area ... I do believe he has a genuine concern for rural America because of his job so he just might already be buying local.


Yeoman said...

Hmmm, Iowa's situation sort of resembles Wyoming's, it would seem.

Our state government is perpetually worried that Wyoming's young people move out of the state, and are always seeking to attract industry that they think will keep folks here. At the same time, our state has experienced some recent scary population growth, in large part due to yet another oil boom.

And this state is not only rural, but quite "natural" also.

So, what of it, why do people leave?

To start with, people say one thing, but what they do often shows you what they really believe. Our current society is completely materialistic, and there's no denying that young Wyomingites, or Iowans, can get more stuff and have more distractions by moving to the big urban areas.

It won't be a better life, but they don't know that, as in this age of "consumerism" television and the culture have answered Wendell Berry's questions, "What are people for?" with the ansewr "To buy stuff."

The cycle is additionally destructive in that those who do well financially in the cities ultimately tend to relocate in rural areas, but in a destructive, non agricultural, fashion.

Which brings me to my next point. Those who would stay and make their way in a rural world are very often foreclosed from really doing so. Probably 1 in 10 young people who study to work in wildlife fields can get a job in it. Probably more ag econ majors end up in banks than on farms. Buying a ranch or farm is massively expensive, and most won't be able to do it. Of the young men who I know who graduated from high school the past couple of years, and who had a strong interest in agriculture, I'd guess that only one of them will end up on a ranch. One has already given up and opted for the Marine Corps.

So, I suspect the Center critic is partially correct, but only partially so. There are things that can be done about this, but it'll take some very progressive legislatures to do it. For starters, you could require agricultural land to be held by agricultural corporations, which would require the shareholder to make 60% or more of their actual income from the farm. But I don't see anyone doing anything like that soon.

Ethan Book said...

Yeoman ... I think you have some good thoughts here. Like I said, my friends that have left the state have gone to cities because they wanted the material laden lifestyle ... not because they wanted more natural resources. What it really comes down to is a shift in the cultural thinking ... and those things take time and effort ... and a plan (which is one thing I'm not sure many people have).

Yeoman said...

"What it really comes down to is a shift in the cultural thinking ... and those things take time and effort ... and a plan (which is one thing I'm not sure many people have)."

Indeed, while a lot of folks think they have a plan, what they really have is a plan provided for them. To that extent, you have to wonder if those who have really thought things out in a large sense, and have a plan they might not realize, are better off than those who have planned around a set of modern conventions provided form them, and will realize it.

What I mean by that is that, in looking around, it seems to me that the general set of Upper and Middle Class assumption are based on the "lots of stuff" plan. The thesis is that lots of stuff, and big stuff, makes you happy. So you get a job to get stuff, not because you are interested in it. You buy stuff, and when that stuff gets dull (as it does rapidly), you buy more new stuff.

Of course, it also means all your stuff is disposable. And ultimately, everything else is too. You can discard your value, your spouse, the tenants of your faith, and everything else, if any of those keep you from getting stuff.

Cynical view, I know, but I truly feel that things were not always that way. That is not to say that people were nearly perfect in some distant past. But, some 60 or more years ago, it does seem to me that American life, as full of faults as it was, was more about successful family life, which meant a whole lot less stuff, smaller stuff, and more realism about things that mattered.

To shift away a bit, I think the falsity of the Stuff philosophy often comes out by a vague yearning people have for what their ancestors left behind. In some instances, that yearning is so strong that the "successful" modern spends a great deal of time thinking about, and yearning for, a life and country left by some long ago desperate ancestor. In many more instances, however, the modern has a vague yearning for the farm left by some ancestor who ventured out seeking stuff.

That's not to criticize those of us who really want to farm. The more power to those of us who would retain the agrarian life. I do criticize, however, the Stuff class that treats ag land as more stuff. They're grasping for what they left, but they won't leave the Stuff that drew them away.

Ethan Book said...

Great thoughts on stuff ... stuff has been on my mind a lot lately, and we are really beginning to get rid of a lot of stuff so we can really focus on our goals!

Steven said...

Great comments!

I agree that so many people have jobs that don't interest them just to get the stuff that interests them at the moment. But, simply living, having healthcare and a roof over our heads forces many to scramble to get a job after school. Leaving many, myself included, in jobs that really don't interest us much. I know others that feel stuck in their jobs because of educational loans that have to be paid off. So then these people have high-paying jobs, and high priced loans, which then equals mid-ranged jobs in the end. I wonder sometimes if it's not just that the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence so we're always trying to get to that other side.
It's eye opening to see people that have the goal of moving to a lower paying profession.

Tessa said...

First, thanks for your insightful posts. It's refreshing, and reminds me of home. I'm one of those Illinois/Iowa expats and I certainly didn't leave because of the stink. I grew up in the country and loved it, but to go to a good college, I had to move into a city. After, I took a job (teaching) that paid well enough to cover bills and allowed me to help an educationally underserved area in south Texas. Now, I'm back in Illinois at a job that is convenient, but pays about half what I made as a teacher. I'm here for the sole purpose of being closer to my family for a while. Someday I'll move on. If I'm lucky enough to find the money, I might be able to go back to agriculture. I guess my point is that people move around for many reasons, and living in the city isn't just about material things. It's about necessity. Being a farmer is so expensive for a young person (or anyone, actually)!

I just got this related (re: mega farms) article in my email and thought it might interest you:

Ethan Book said...

Tessa ... Thanks for your comment! I'm glad you enjoy checking out the blog, feel free to add to the discussion from time to time.

Oh, and thanks for the link to the article!

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