Sunday, October 25, 2009

A lovely (if not altogether light) rural vignette

Read Lan Samantha Chang's piece in today's NYT. Chang writes as part of the paper's Home Economics series, billed as "writers from around the country provid[ing] snapshots of their local economies," and her contribution is called "Meet the Farmers." Chang lives in Iowa City, Iowa, (population 65,219) where she is part of the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. (Her vocation shows, I might add, in the sometimes poignant portrait she creates, as well as in her often lyrical use of language).

The farmers to whom Chang introduces us are Leo and Deanna Fuhrmeister, who work land nearby and who are the only farmers Chang and her husband know. Chang asserts, in fact, that many Iowans don't know many farmers and they don't know much about the realities of farming. She quotes Mrs. Fuhrmesiter for this proposition: “Most people in farm states really don’t know a farmer. ... Many children don’t even have a clue how their food reaches a grocery store.” (So, this isn't just an urban phenomenon? See a recent post here.)

Among the rural themes in Chang's piece are the farm economy (corn prices are down from $7.05 a bushel last year to $3 a bushel this year), attachment to place (the farm has been in the Fuhrmesiter family for more than a century), family (five sons live nearby and they help out when Mr. Fuhrmeister "hollers loud enough") and hard work (during harvest, Mr. Fuhrmeister works 16-hour days). Here's an excerpt from the end of the piece, linking rural with urban:
[W]e ... don’t realize how closely connected the economic fates of farmers and non-farmers, residents of the same state, really are. The steadiness of farming has shielded Iowa from the worst of the recession, but the plunging price of our largest crop has resulted in greatly diminished tax revenues.
* * *
Our governor this month ordered an emergency 10 percent spending cut. That means fewer repairs, fewer services and reduced educational resources for every Iowan.
Thus, Chang observes, her metropolitan family and Iowa's farmers share the economic consequences of vacillating commodity prices and an ag-oriented economy. They share Iowa's future.

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