Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Small Southern farmers in fiscal peril after wet autumn

Shaila Dewan reports in yesterday's New York Times on failed crops in several southern states, most notably in the Mississippi Delta, and on the financial implications for farmers there. Dewan takes up not only the monetary consequences of the unseasonable weather, she also puts a human face on these events, exploring the social context and consequences, too. Here's an excerpt about John Hart, whose crops were ruined this year by fall rains that devastated agricultural production in the region.

For the thousandth time, Mr. Hart, 61, asked himself why he had come back home more than three decades ago from Chicago, where he was a lathe operator, to farm the family land where he grew up.

Mr. Hart, who is now supported primarily by his wife's salary from nursing is quoted, "You just keep going ... She knows that's all I like to do." The "that," of course, is farming.

While the unseasonably wet fall means most farmers in the region will lose money this year, the fiscal situation of small farmers is especially precarious. Dewan notes that some of these are black farmers, like Mr. Hart, who survived "years of discriminatory policies" by the USDA, which made it more difficult for black farmers to get loans.

Dewan's story touches repeatedly on the rural theme of attachment to place, with phrases such as "farming is in their blood." One farmer is quoted as saying: "You don't want to be the generation that loses the family farm." Another farmer she features is Taylor Flowers Jr., 36, who farms land "lost by his mother’s family and bought by his father’s, all before his parents married." She quotes Flowers:

I’ve got a college education, I’ve got a degree in ag business. ... But I don’t know, if I had to quit, what I’d go do. There’s not many jobs out there right now.

The particular Mississippi locales mentioned in the story include Coahoma County, population 30,622, and Lexington, population 2,025.

1 comment:

LT said...

The many references to family farms and attachment to place remind me of a book I read in college - Epitaph of a Peach, by David Mas Masumoto. Masumoto studied sociology at UC Berkeley and received a master's degree in community development from UC Davis, but returned home to Del Rey, CA to farm the family land as a third-generation farmer. Much of the "farming is in the blood" and "you don't want to be the generation that loses the family farm" sentiments are in Masumoto's book, which documents his struggle to save his family's organic grape and peach farm in the midst of a changing agricultural industry. Click here
to visit Masumoto's website.