In the pantheon of public culture’s department of soul, some acts need no introduction. Some stars are so big that they are on a first-name basis with the rest of the world, and anyone who doesn’t get the reference is just plain out of luck. Not in any painful or shameful way; just deprived of an experience – possibly enriching, possibly not.
I don’t pretend to be a musical aficionado or an expert on the culture of soul, but I had to take notice and smile when I saw an ad for the above-referenced groups all together on a single bill. Those three names encompass generations of soul, and are a living legacy to the unifying power of great music.
I wondered if another public icon, the farmer, could be summed up in a few compelling words. I thought of the work that farmers do out of the public’s eye. I thought about the seemingly never-ending crisis that American farmers have been facing since the breakdown of the farming community and the mass exodus of farmers off the land and into cities and suburbs. While farming was the way of life for a majority of Americans right up to World War II, farming is now a memory – vaguely grasped. Some of us may remember visiting a family farm “back home” once upon a time, but the new reality of farming is much more about crop subsidies, global competition, vertical integration, and ever-diminishing marketing niches.
How much we as a nation cherish the idea of farming, and how American farmers will fare over the next few decades is now in the balance.
Suppose we heard about a big-name concert coming to town that featured “The Planters, The Grafters and The Tillers?” These performers live a hard life, work every day in a changing, unpredictable environment and still manage not only to feed us, but to nurture us with anecdotes, recipes, and fellowship. Few of us would or could adopt their lifestyle, but we appreciate the literal fruits of their labor and we gather each week to participate in commerce with them. What they do is beyond our skill and means, but what they do for us is beyond measure. Let’s face it – we are fans!
Now we can ask why the mango crop was so short-lived this year. Or why the Calico corn was so late in coming to market. And why did the Indian Red peaches last only a few weeks? And why, now that I have tasted grass-fed beef (and bison and pork), can I not even think about eating any other kind of meat? We have been ensouled by the farmers’ market. We have succumbed to its rich offerings and we simply cannot be satisfied with anything else. We want to meet the person who grows our food and we want to thank him or her for doing it. We want to know a thing or two about where our food comes from and we have learned to ask for it by name, variety, and season.And if rising gas prices force farmers to raise the price of an item by a quarter or so, let’s be glad to pay the freight. It’s nothing compared to the high cost of “handling fees” for concert tickets, and we know we are getting our money’s worth!