Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Can trends like slow food redeem rural livelihoods?

Stories like this one in the New York Times earlier this week give me hope regarding U.S. attitudes toward rural living.  The dateline is Hagerstown, Indiana, population 1,787, and the headline is "A Lesson in Farming, Classroom to Cafeteria."  Steve Yaccino reports:
Beyond a stack of hay bales, past the site of Indiana’s first soil-judging contest, high school students in this tiny eastern town stroll down a grassy slope to reach their newest classroom: a fenced-in field of cud-chewing cattle. 
Starting in the next academic year, the cattle, which arrived last month and have names like Ground Round and Honey Bear, will be fed by students enrolled in an agricultural science class. Then, when the animals are fat enough, they will be fed back to their caretakers — as beef patties on lunchroom trays.
Yaccino notes that Hagerstown is not alone among rural places as it faces fear that links to agriculture are being lost, along with the challenges of declining population and, with it, shrinking school funding.  Yaccino reports that other small schools across the country are turning to "hands-on agricultural classes that also supply cheaper, healthier food" to students.  He mentions student-raised chickens at Montague, Michigian, population 2,361, and "campus-bred pork" in Willits, California, population 4,888.
Pupils in other districts throughout the Midwest are growing crops or garden produce for a letter grade before eating the fruits of their labor when the lunch bell rings.
I am reminded of an academic article titled "Farming Made Her Stupid," by Lisa Heldke, published in Hypatia in 2006.  Perhaps crazes like "slow food" and "farm to fork" are redeeming rural livelihoods, and not only the urban ag craze, as I have written about here.

P.S.  Another farm-to-table story appeared in the Times a few days after this post.  Read Dan Barber's Opinion piece, "What Farm to Table Got Wrong," which focuses on the movement's failure to attend adequately to soil quality, crop rotation, etc.  In the end, Barber argues, we need more "middle men" to process crops that are not thought of as desirable, but which nurture the soil.

NPR reviews Barber's new book, The Third Plate:  Field Notes on the Future of Food here , and provides this summary of his message:  we should eat "a wider variety of foods that support natural agricultural practices."

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