The Scoop

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

Opportunity, Montana ?

Towards the end of my recent sojourn in Montana my dad and I took a brief detour through the town of Opportunity, Montana.

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.

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