Landship Foods is inspired by the conviction that growing and eating healthy food is one of the most important things we can do for both ourselves and the broader communities of which we are a part. The name comes from the language of pre-industrial Europe. Before the enclosure movement and the associated rise in notions of private property swept England, the suffix “-ship” (as in "relationship," or "friendship") referred to an object or an abstraction with collective duties and mutual rights. Thus, the term “landship” suggests that land was an entity through which humans were joined to each other by a set of rights and responsibilities. I advocate for a revival of this awareness.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
How could you not? At one level, there is the initial touristy reaction: "Oh, isn't that ironic, and so quaint? A small town in the middle of nowhere called 'Opportunity'." But if you are, like me, uncomfortable with the voyeuristic tourist gaze it doesn't take long to come up with some interesting, albeit often unsettling, questions. I guess I am especially sensitive to this issue because, having lived in rural places for most of my life, I think that the tendency to romanticize the countryside does more harm than good.
I haven't done the research, but my guess is that the town was named in the mining era - and the cynic in me hypothesizes that bankers and real estate speculators were the ones to give it such a unique appellation. Sort of like the naming of Greenland. But it doesn't take long to recognize that something not-so pleasant is going on in Opportunity. Most of it has a lot to do with the long history of mining in the area. The photo here is of smelter stacks from the also intriguingly-named Anaconda Mining Company.
And here is an aerial of the enormous Superfund clean-up site, where tax payers pick up the tab for the opportunities enjoyed by corporations and their government supporters:
But in addition to the Superfund cleanup and toxic waste ponds that delimit Opportunity, I want to suggest that there is more to its problems than that: it is a rural place in modern America. As such it is depopulating; simultaneously romanticized and villainized; largely forgotten; economically depressed; environmentally dumped-on; all-in-all, it is definitely not the land of opportunity.
But this is not a rural issue. In fact, I think the way that "rural" and "urban" have come to be dominant categories for ordering modern reality is itself a large part of the problem. There is a strong tendency to think of "the urban" and "the rural" as separate entities or opposite poles when in fact they are immanently connected. For instance, we tend to think of homelessness as an urban issue, yet in many cities most of the homeless are displaced from rural areas (which are even more woefully under-served than cities). Homelessness is better understood, then, as a social issue, not an urban one. In this way, and many others, the urban/rural distinction obscures the full dynamics of phenomena and often contributes to divisive politics.
And in closing yet another example from Montana. Driving down the highway not an hour from Opportunity, we passed a billboard that read: "Before meth I had a daughter. Now I have a prostitute." Rural communities across America are struggling with the meth epidemic just as urban communities struggle(d) with crack. The differences are not important, in fact they only obscure the central similarities: both drug problems are the result of an unjust distribution of political and economic power, a lack of opportunity.
Friday, June 17, 2011
The (commercial) farm lobby is strong here in Georgia and has exerted significant pressure on conservative governor Nathan Deal, who deserves the moniker goober-natorial if anyone ever has. Witness this excellent example of political-speak, where he explains the rationale (perhaps there's too much credit in that last word, but it will have to do for now) behind his new plan to put prison parolees in the farm labor positions recently vacated by intimidated immigrant workers:
"I believe this would be a great partial solution to our current status as we continue to move towards sustainable results with the legal options available."
In addition to the illuminating oxymoron of a "great partial solution," his statement also manages to work in that key buzzword: sustainable. He is really pulling out all the rhetorical tricks on this one. In the full article I read, the paper also reports that many farmers have had to let crops rot in the fields. Illustrating the sense of entitlement long-enjoyed by large-scale growers, one Georgia farmer intones that:
"We've got to come up with something. There's no way we can continue if we don't have a labor source to pull from."
This guy clearly illustrates the tight-knit relationship between government and agribusiness: he expects to have the government create a pliable labor source, and goober Deal is politically-liable if he doesn't fall in step. After the farm lobby pulls off this political coup, they will slap each other on the back and continue to talk about how independent they are; then they will resume their campaigns to resist "government interference," which is what they call government action when it doesn't benefit them: minimum wage laws, environmental regulations, and other similarly "socialist" efforts. There is an unavoidable parallel here to the rhetoric employed by southern planters in the post-emancipation American South who complained that the government had to do something about the recently-freed black men and women who refused to work for white planters.
Don't get me wrong, I hate to see the crops rotting in the fields, especially with people going hungry all over the world (including south Georgia). But no one in the farm lobby (or their pocket) has even broached the real solution to the perennial fear of farm labor scarcity: improve farm labor conditions! There is not enough time to get into the minutiae here, but it is quite obvious that agriculture needs serious reform and this episode only highlights that farm labor conditions must be at the top of the list.
In more uplifting food politics news check out this audio clip: 93 Dollar Club. The thing I like most is that it highlights the importance of grassroots organizers: those who take the initiative to create change instead of relying on the sham of electoral politics, being immobilized by inevitable challenges, or becoming deterred by the impenetrable formalities of government bureaucracies.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
If I weren't worried about offending my Georgia readers who have been sweltering in the dog days of summer for a while now, I would point out that the highs here in Montana are about 65 presently...but that would just be rude.
When the conference ends, my summer begins. More updates soon.