Herd About It?

by Ana Grarian

I’ve been reading Methland : The death and life of an American small town by Nick Reding. Nick spent four years investigating the causes and effects of meth production and use in a small city in Iowa. According to Nick the expansion of the meth trade into wide scale local production was in a large part due to the destruction of the economic base of the city by Big Ag.

Oelwein Iowa had once offered good jobs at a local meat plant. Wages were good and there were union benefits. If you worked hard you could aspire to a middle class life in Oelwien. This local business and the wages it paid supported other local businesses including local family farms.

In 1992 the plant was bought by Gillette. Wages were slashed by about two thirds and the union was dismantled. Middle class folks became poverty level wage earners overnight. Those with higher education and advanced skills left town for better jobs elsewhere. Many of those who stayed behind used meth so they could work double shifts or second jobs. Illegal immigrant labor became a problem, and a pipeline for meth. The lack of good jobs and loss of population had it’s ripple effects on the other businesses in town. Eventually the lure of profits from home manufacture of meth became irresistable.The effects of all this were felt by the increasingly smaller town and it’s shrinking resources. Police, doctors, the hospital, social services.

Nick has a quote that I think is telling…

“Somewhere along the way companies grew to have no respect for the people whose lives there products perhaps intended to improve, refusing to provide workers with a decent wage or health insurance. Despite this, people fight to endure, just as they always have. And as they fight, some percentage of them will look to a drug that falsely promises to help in that cause.”

Industrialized Agriculture follows the same business plans as other industries. Make the most profits for the stockholders and everyone else be damned. Used to be that the stockholders of farms were the family itself, the other community businesses where the farmer had accounts like the feed mill and the hardware store, and machinery dealer. These were your neighbors whom you cared about and who cared about you. Your employees were your neighbors also, and the sons and daughters of your friends who you had to live with – in community. Now the stockholders are investors who won’t see the effects to people they don’t know and don’t care about. The employees are increasingly temporary immigrants, many illegal, who are too scared to seek medical help and will probably go home when they are no longer healthy enough to work. Increasingly the farm owner lives away, and does not need to rub elbows with those whose wells have been polluted.

Nero fiddles while Rome burned and big business parties while the rest of us get burned.