We know 2009 will be remembered for the economic turmoil, the bailouts, the layoffs, the stream of disheartening news.
But it will also be a year of the garden.
With spring here, there will be more hands in the soil than ever. The sad economy will be met this year with the dirty boots and sweat-soaked shirts of people who want to take out their frustrations in productive ways. “Slow food” will take the place of “fast food” in some places. People will nurture tomato plants, pick squash, grow peas, share these things with family, friends, neighbors — maybe even strangers. Many will can the vegetables, stock their shelves for winter.
These things always happen. But this year seems different, doesn’t it? The grocery store is a great modern convenience. We have a world of tasty pleasure just a debit card away.
But the satisfaction people take in growing their own food, of producing for themselves and their family takes on new meaning during economic hardship. The garden, the farm, they seem like firm posts in the ground, something to hold onto as harsh winds blow.
We look back at the centuries of pre-Ingles, pre-Kroger days. “Store-bought” was a luxury, not a necessity. Now, “home-grown” is the luxury, “store-bought” the necessity.
We moved from an agrarian to a modern, technologically advanced society. And this shift from a producing to a purchasing society was a natural result of our more specialized job market.
In a world of gadgets, machines, and rapid development, people find their own little niche, their own little way to carve out a living. A man working at a computer software firm doesn’t have to slaughter his own pig, scald it, string it up, quarter it, salt it and keep it in a smokehouse for a year.
If he did, he would be quite the talk at the office.
It’s a different world now.
But old timers, who are sometimes flummoxed by modern gadgetry, are wiser than most of the rest of us in large part because they had to be generalists. They lived through days of inconvenience. They had to know a little of everything in order to have a little bit of something.
Yes, the equipment is different these days. And farming practices have evolved with the rise in technology, leading to greater efficiency.
But Madison County is a place where old traditions are still alive. This has always been an ag county. And it appears that will remain true. The pressures of growth will surely return, but the deep agriculture versus residential development tensions of the past few years seem like a different era, a different reality.
We printed our third-annual agriculture section this week in The Madison County Journal. It’s a celebration of ag education in the county.
No one will dispute the deep need for the ABC’s of agriculture to be repeated to new generations.
Agriculture is still valued. It is this county’s backbone. And we surely need a strong posture now.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.