The other day I read an editorial in a regional paper decrying as "pork" government spending on specialty agriculture -- getting small farmers hooked up with trying new crops, particularly for the consumer and tourism markets.
I suppose that for someone in the city who doesn't understand farming, or for someone working as an office drone for a company that isn't getting a government subsidy for diversifying its product line, giving Farmer Brown the educational or tools to switch from raising dairy cattle to salad vegetables or running a petting farm for "agritourists" sounds pretty foolish.
But here's the thing: The lovely bucolic small farms of the average American's imagination can no longer survive growing the crops and livestock they've always grown; the economy of scale won't allow it. So small farmers, depending on where they live, are faced with not-very-appealing options like quitting agriculture altogether (to do what, exactly?), or becoming what amounts to corporate serfs of agribusiness factory farms. Diversification and specialty marketing can make a difference between a farm family staying on the land they've farmed for perhaps generations and being forced off. And preserving farmland is not only good for small farmers and their local economies, but the environment as well; one of the most insidious losses of wildlife habitat is due to the "subdivisionication" of farmland, which when it doesn't destroy ecosystems outright fragments them to the point of non-sustainability.
So what's not to like about agricultural diversification? Wouldn't it be great if, for instance, Fellow Traveler and I had the privilege of investing in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm where, for maybe $150 or so a year, we could enjoy whatever farm products were grown -- where we would share the farmer's risks each year but also be able to share in the harvest? Wouldn't it be great if farms in mid-Michigan could cater to other niche consumer markets?
But thinking like that takes vision. And that's something that Michigan has precious little of, in any area, from the grassroots to boardrooms, union headquarters and legislative offices.
I've been interested in politics since I was a little kid debating the Nixon-Humphrey election with my dad...and I have to say that our current Legislature is the most dysfunctional, do-nothing assortment of bi-partisan deadwood ever to descend upon Lansing. To paraphrase late Detroit mayor Coleman Young, the only thing Michigan politicians seem to be able to run is their mouths. Oh -- if you want the Ten Commandments displayed in marble on your courthouse lawn, or if you want punitive legislation passed against families that don't look like Ozzie and Harriet's, or if you want some critter named Michigan's state invertebrate, by God they're on that. But when it comes to anything that actually matters, I think that an average high school civics class could get more accomplished in this state; lock 'em in chambers with some Mountain Dew and a deadline and let them at it.
In a post awhile back I lamented the dismal lifestyle habits of Michiganians; we're always at the bottom of national health surveys on such matters. (Not too long ago I witnessed a multigenerational convoy of grossly obese people, some sporting oxygen tanks and cigarettes, wheezingly making their way in their motorized scooters down a local sidewalk, and thought to myself that that would make a sadly accurate addition to one of those "Day in the Life of Michigan" photo anthologies.) We're not getting it together at the level of individual action and responsibility. And we're not getting it together collectively either. We are in a mess -- a mess caused by inertia and complacency and lack of common sense; and a lack of vision for the future, both our own and future generations'.
And "Without a vision the people perish."
For those of you praying the venerable O Antiphons before Christmas, today's beseeches, "O Dawn of the East, brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of Justice: Come, and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." Today, in my pensive state of mind, it occurred to me that that would make an excellent prayer for Michigan right now.