Monday, February 23, 2009

Hee Haw Culture

I’m a late baby-boomer, born in 1958. I grew up at the zenith of abandoning cities and plundering cheap farmland to build suburban tract homes and office parks.

My parents and grandparents were educated city dwellers – engineers, physicians, chemists and social workers.

There is no farm blood in my immediate lineage. It’s inevitable that I have farming ancestors because I can trace one branch of the family back to the Mayflower. Maybe I’m related to Dick Cheney, too, like Obama.

I never visited Grandma and Grandpa on a farm. By the time I came along mid-century, the USA was fully consumed with consumer culture. Americans abandoned farm life to fairy tales and CAFOs – Commercial Agricultural Feeding Operations, and industrialized farming using big machines, nitrogen fertilizer and migrant workers.

Children of farmers knew how much work it was to farm, and they headed to college and the cities. Their parents couldn’t afford it.

As the ultimate insult to insure the demise of the family farm, our culture relegated farmers as backwards hayseeds, memorializing them in the TV show “Hee Haw.”

So when my third child, Ian, announced, “I want to be an organic farmer,” the image came to mind of a slightly plump balding white guy in overalls speaking slowly in a southern draw -- Hee Haw.

I didn’t want my son to be Hee Haw. It contradicted my value system and lifelong socialization to be a consumer.

Simultaneously, the “localvore” movement took off. I read Michael Pollen’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable Miracle," and “Plenty,” by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon, their one-year challenge to eat foods produced within 100 miles of their home. It was rough because there was no flour source nearby.

After a century-long exodus away from farm life, we're returning there again, like refugees. It's almost like going to a foreign country because it's so unfamiliar, but we're heading back to our agrarian roots.

This time, the code words are different – organic, local, sustainable, free range, community supported agriculture [CSA].

All my life’s a circle. To hell with the century of so-called progress. And it turns out my farmer son is doing what he loves to do -- surf -- and ride on the crest of the wave of organic and locally grown food.

It's about as far away from, and as close as he can get to Hee-Haw.

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