Country Living Series

Monday, June 10, 2013

Who's gonna grow the food?

I just came across a disturbing article entitled Rural US Shrinks as Young Flee for the Cities. The original article, frustratingly, now requires registration to view it; but I found the text here.

Now it's not uncommon for young people to leave the family farm and seek their fortunes in the big city. Our own daughters will likely follow that course. What remains to be seen is what our girls -- and millions of other young people who grew up rural -- will do when they mature. Once they're married and have families, the lure of the countryside may overcome the lure of the city. Or maybe I should say, the disadvantages of urban living may overshadow the disadvantages of rural living.

Or it may not. We'll see.

The biggest reason for this migration from rural areas is the identical reason young people have fled for urban lights since the Industrial Revolution: JOBS.

Farming is darn hard work. It's also insecure. We get a taste of it, and we're not even farmers (we're "homesteaders"). But when your entire living comes from the soil, you're vulnerable to drought, floods, and other monkey wrenches from Mother Nature. Frankly a lot of young people no longer see the need (or want to experience) the hard physical labor involved in putting food on America's tables. They'd rather become CPAs or electricians which, while highly necessary jobs, means that someone else is responsible for providing food for the table.

The article states, "Losing people in their 20s and 30s, the prime childbearing years, meant many rural regions were seeing their birth rates decline significantly. Those people who did move to rural areas tended to be older adults past their childbearing years."

When Don and I up and left Sacramento in 1992 shortly after we were married, we were part of that demographic of people in their "prime childbearing years." In fact, that was one of our primary motivators. We didn't want to raise our then-future children in the city. We wanted them to grow up in the country. We wanted them to know where their food originates, and not to develop the cloak of cynicism that is often so necessary to survive in an urban environment. But in order to do that, we had to risk financial uncertainty and create our own employment (those of you who have read Bear Poop and Applesauce understand how we did it).


I can think of no better definition of Don's and my attitude toward rural life than the "Philosophy" on the Countryside Magazine webpage: "It’s not a single idea, but many ideas and attitudes, including a reverence for nature and a preference for country life; a desire for maximum personal self-reliance and creative leisure; a concern for family nurture and community cohesion; a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money; a certain nostalgia for the supposed simplicities of the past and an anxiety about the technological and bureaucratic complexities of the present and the future; and a taste for the plain and functional. Countryside reflects and supports the simple life, and calls its practitioners 'homesteaders.'"

What's interesting is how living rural, which used to be the norm, is now considered shocking or even subversive. Don and I faced incredulity and strong discouragement from our friends and families when we left our well-paying jobs in the city in order to face poverty in the country. They thought we were foolish and irresponsible. Folks were literally incapable of understanding WHY we made that choice. Why would we give up well-paying jobs in order to submit to financial uncertainty? It was, in part, because of "a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money."

Granted we were young and naive about the hardships we would face, but the lure of well-paying city jobs couldn't overcome our desire for the freedom and independence rural life offered. We liked the thought of not having neighbors breathing down our necks all around us. We still do. The cheek-by-jowl lifestyle which urban living necessitates just has no appeal to us, no matter how many cultural or income-earning opportunities were possible in the city.

But personal issues aside, here's the statistic in the article which absolutely floored me. Did you know that 15% of the US population is spread across 72% of its land area? Which means its corollary -- that 85% of the US population is crammed into 28% of its land area -- is also true.

And even those numbers are wildly skewed. Anyone who's flown over the dry and arid western half of America has seen vast, vast swathes of land without a single person inhabiting. It all has to do with water availability, of course.


All this makes me wonder something very important. If young people are leaving rural areas, who's gonna grow the food?


Somehow all those millions upon millions upon millions of urban dwellers must eat, but sadly there is a strong disconnect between people who eat and people who grow or raise. Far too many urban people think food just magically appears on grocery store shelves without consider all the channels that food must take to get there. Someone has to cultivate, plant, harvest, process, transport, package, and otherwise get food into a form that is both recognizable and available. Alternately someone has to raise, care for, butcher, transport, and package food from animal form into a form that is both recognizable and available. These things don't just "happen." Many people work tirelessly and thanklessly behind the scenes to make sure this nation is fed.

And if young people don't do it, what will happen after the older generation retires?

The laws of this land unfairly punish the small farmer. These laws range from the insane death taxes that often force adult children to sell their family's farm, to government goons sending SWAT teams to arrest raw milk farmers. And this is in addition to the every day challenges farmers face from Mother Nature.

The net result? At some point, the only people left to feed the majority of America will be the massive corporate agri-farmers, with people who don't have the heritage and love of the land that small farmers have.

Anyway, just some thoughts for a busy Monday morning as we work to get two large woodcraft orders complete, clean the barn, milk the cow, halter-break a calf, dehorn, weed, water, plant, and cultivate. All before noon.

21 comments:

  1. What are you going to do with all of your spare time in between your chores?

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  2. I'm so grateful to live in the country and raise as much of our own food as possible. We are still learning so much every day.
    I love your last paragraph. It's true, homesteading is a lot of work, but I wouldn't trade it for anywhere else.

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  3. Trying to get a small garden going has given me an immense appreciation for the hard work and gambles of the farmers and ranchers who supply our food. WOW! We live in a rural town in Iowa and can testify to the youth drain here. The old people are dying out faster than babies are being born, by about 10 to 1. I have a lot of respect for the small market farmers who love the land and are being good stewards of it. I look forward to the Farmer's Markets of summer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. Roman regulations and taxes pretty much caused the Latifundia to be completely abandoned right before the end.

    Just pointing that out.

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  5. I can barely stand to go to town once a week, and it has a population of five thousand something. lol

    Great piece, Patrice.

    Thank you.


    A. McSp









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  6. Our country is pretty much there already except for the few country folk and homesteaders and CSA farmers. People don't seem to understand what has happened to our food supply... and if they have an inkling, they really don't want to know about it. Choices have consequences.

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  7. Oddly enough given the current economic climate, I wonder how much "job security" is really to be found in an urban area. We live in an urban area - my chosen career requires it - but even I am concerned with the fact that there is little else available in my line of work. Could it be that we could see a massive turn of reality where a generation realizes that what they were promised is not real and returns back to the land?

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    1. I think that's possible. Some will never want to *gasp* get dirty. Others ache for something more "real" than the life they're living. I'm using my GI Bill to go to mechanic school with the goal of learning a trade that can help pay the bills in the country.

      I'm 23 and not the only one my age wanting to leave the city behind.

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    2. I'm heading my family to the countryside this summer. Enough is enough.

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    3. So I heard!! I'll follow your journey eagerly. I wish you the very best.

      - Patrice

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  8. Monsanto is going to engineer the food. It will be in the hands of a few people, and even urban dwellers will soon turn to growing what they can in buckets or wherever they can find a patch of dirt.

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  9. One should have "a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money." Alas, most people do not. I stand amazed on the terrible attitude most people have about money as well as self-reliance. My husband and I usually get the "deer in the headlight" look. They have lost--really never had-- the joy and making and doing. They do not understand the satisfaction of a job well done. It is to their detriment.

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    1. With one exception, every job I've ever had is of the "I'm here for the paycheck/benefits" type. My last job was the worst-every one I worked with hated the job, and the turnover rate was phenomenal. Getting someone in after hours was almost impossible,and to be honest, you were crazy if you did. The job almost seemed to be designed that way...

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  10. It's funny. My twenties were when I realized I HAD to be on a farm, NOT in the city. It was such an overwhelming feeling, it couldn't be denied. It was a daily, aching need.

    Every once in a while, the people who owned our farm long before us, now in old age, drop by for a visit to their old homestead.

    They see the land still alive, the house still standing in good repair. It warms my heart to see their hearts glow.

    Just Me

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  11. Unless we see some massive changes soon I'm sure it will become illegal to "grow your own" in the next few years because you know "government knows best" *Snort*
    The past 2 years we've noticed an increasing amount of gardens going in yards but this spring there is easily 3X's the amount . Those in subdivisions are tilling up side lawns much to the dismay of the HOA's. Some are even banning vegie gardens in the BACK yard! I think folks are finally waking up to food prices and the dangers of GMO's/frankin food

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  12. Ilive in a small city/large town(depends on how you look at it) and consider moving here the biggest mistake of my life, one I'm in the process of correcting.
    I work next door to a shop that designs computer controlled semiautonomous farm equipment(and builds prototypes), so it may very well be that farms will become huge corporate things, and ran by machine( with human oversight), for the most part. Watching an autonomous forklift is strange, yet cool in its own way.
    Me? I want out, but to do this without debt (pay as you go/saving up for what you want) is a slow process.

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  13. Here it is 828 pm. I am a self employed handyman. Also we have 20 acres of land. A 3,000 sq ft garden. And a herd of chickens, meat and laying. I got home at 4pm. Cleaned the chicken coop, and took bedding up to garden, after weeding spread the manure mix, around the tomatoes, and cabbage plants. Then I spent an hour mowing the rest of yard. Fed the dog and fixed a downspout. (rain coming) Cleaned all the gutters on barn and house. And now I am enjoying a beer and writing this. Bring on the rain! I wouldn't trade my life for anything offered in the city.

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  14. I've been reading your blog nonstop for the past couple of days. While I don't believe in all of your political standpoints, I admire and respect your way of life. For the past year or so (I'm in my very early 20s) I have decided to look into homesteading and sustainable living. I have grown up right where I am today and was none the wiser to the ways in which we (in the urban communities) are able to stuff our faces daily. My ambition is to be right where you are someday. Maybe not the same state, maybe not growing the same produce or raising the same animals, but being able to trace back to where my food originated. As I am beginning to set these plans (albeit slowly) into motion I am met by a strong, solid wall of disbelief from both family and peers. My own mother doesn't understand how I would be able to raise something from a baby one day and then serve it on my table the next, yet she has no problems choosing down on a petite fillet at one of our local hibachi restaurants. Through research I have discovered how very far removed from the actual WORLD we are. Not only are our basic necessities being met by dirty, foul agri-businesses who care more about making top dollar than our actual health, we are led by a government who can be paid off to "look the other way" when pesticides, hormones, steroids, and man-made chemicals are put into our foods and our mouths daily (aspartame, anyone?). I am done being herded with the rest of the masses. I hope to one day be a successful "homesteader" like you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a true inspiration as well as an invaluable source of guidance where I have no others. If I could meet you, rest assured, you would be met with a hug!

    -Lauren

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    1. Lauren, if you've got the drive at such a young age, I'm confident you'll make it. As you pointed out, be prepared to face the disbelief or even scorn of friends and family when you "jump ship" and buy your plot of land. The work is hard, but my goodness the rewards are tremendous. I wish you the very best of luck on your journey; and when you take your leap, be sure to let us know! You might even think about starting a blog.

      - Patrice

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  15. *chowing. Sorry (:

    -Lauren

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  16. It's all intentional unfortunately. Ever see 'Soylent Green' or read 'Caves of Steel'? The majority of urban dwellers I encounter don't think these things would be a bad thing! I've been growing things on a small scale and canning to grow the skill I need to take care of business. ;)

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