Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

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.

By AFarmer

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RS Janes
14 years ago

Good article, Ana, and the last paragraph not only applies to farms, but American free market capitalism in general. In the early days of this country, the owners of the companies lived in the same towns as the people who worked for them; their kids all went to the same schools and their families shopped at the same stores. If the owner tried to rip off his workers or pollute the water, he’d hear it from his neighbors and, at the least, be shunned if he continued, if not seized as a menace to the community and run out of town on a rail, usually wearing a thick coating of tar and feathers. This helped keep the human predators in line.

But the modern anonymity and distance of the owners and stockholders, as you pointed out, and the dominance of corporations — a business concept that barely existed when our country was founded — has mutated the workable and fairly benign idea of localized mainly-agrarian free market capitalism into a sinister monster that is consuming us all with its bloated greed. It has to be tamed by our ‘of, by and for the People’ government, and I hope it’s not too late to accomplish that. No wonder most of us are on some kind of drug.

Twenty years ago I met a woman who worked a farm in a mid-Southern state with her husband and kids. One year they were hit by both Big Agra’s manipulation of crop prices and bad weather, so they couldn’t show any profit, and all of their family-farmer friends were in equally bad shape. The only way these folks managed to pay their bills and hold onto their farms was by growing and selling pot. Nearly every farmer in the county had a truck patch of weed somewhere on their property. It was so prevalent, the county sheriff all but stopped busting farmers for marijuana. His relatives were farmers — he knew the score. I got the impression from her that most of them, even after the crisis passed, kept on growing weed just to have a little extra cash for emergencies.

As a slightly off-topic sidelight, this is also the kind of country where the ‘Partnership For a Drug-Free America’ is sponsored by Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser beer) and Big Pharma and their real goal is to prevent competition from ‘illegal’ drugs like pot. They wouldn’t want us growing our own free ‘medication’ in the backyard when they can sell us a Bud Light and a Xanax to numb the pain of losing our jobs and our homes. Welcome to the nut house!

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