My family is a family of oddballs. We are a bi-racial family that homeschools and homesteads. Before that my husband was a refugee from Southeast Asia. We have lived in a variety of places including Cambodia, a refugee camp in Thailand, Alabama, Los Angeles, Fargo, North Dakota, and suburbs of the twin cities.
Directly before moving to our 40 acre hobby farm we lived in a 40 by 80 foot lot on the Eastside of St. Paul.
We have seen a lot and are blessed to have been exposed to many ideas, perspectives and beliefs. This unique perspective and our love for our neighbors and rural home allows me to see there is a disconnect between many of the policies of the Democratic party and rural communities. The party has by and large lost the Farmer part of the Democratic-Farmer- Labor (DFL) party.
I was reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh recently. In it he says —
“When communication is cut off, we all suffer. When no one listens to us or understands us, we become like a bomb ready to explode. Restoring communication is an urgent task. Sometimes only ten minutes of deep listening can transform us and bring a smile back to our lips. . .”
Communication has been cut off and rural America is not being heard by the party. In many ways this was key to the success of Donald Trump who espoused to listen, understand and take up the cause of farmers. Whether he actually did or not is not the point of this letter. Instead I urge you to please listen to rural America and make the plight of small farms and the communities that surround them a priority.
One thing that COVID glaringly highlighted was the fact that our food system is susceptible to collapse. As many hog farmers were unable to bring their hogs to process there were people going hungry. Small custom butchers were able to pick up some of the slack but still farmers’ fortunes are tied to national and multi-national companies and so is the food system.
I am a relatively new transplant to rural life. There are a multitude of issues. While poverty, drug use and domestic abuse are far from being only inner city concerns rural communities and towns are also decimated by the number of bright young people who have to leave their homes to make a living in the city in some cases with whole towns disappearing.
A sustainable food system that really tackles the issues of minimizing middle men, and allowing food to flow freely from farms to tables should be the priority of all of us at this time. Not only does it mean economic security for farmers and sustainable rural communities but strong food systems that support our cities with healthy food.
Land Stewardship Project is one organization I highly respect. I know that the Farm Service Agency and USDA is working hard to provide resources for farmers and our own state Department of Agriculture has an Emerging Farmers’ Working Group these are all important issues and steps in the right direction. But I urge all elected officials to take a serious look at rural America not as a vast red swath of the country but as citizens that have interconnected issues and concerns that need to be addressed and dealt with. Please reach out to farmers and communities and begin to formulate policies that can again make for prosperous communities!
A local historian in our area who has lived on the same farm (the one his grandfather originally homesteaded) for 90 years remembers when families could make a living off of 6-10 cows that the farm family milked by hand. While this sounds unattainable it also sounds idyllic–a system that supported a diverse and large number of small family farms with little negative impact on the environment and that honored and cared for the animals it depended all. At the same time providing a high quality product to local consumers with local creameries in nearly every town–milk was taken to town by wagon so many creameries close to the farms were required. Of course I would not expect this to be recreated but it offers a model completely different from what we now have. A middle path could and should be found.