Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


 by Mike Connelly 11/12/04.

I had never been even close to the East Coast before. But there I was in mid-state Vermont, sitting in the middle of a hillside pasture that was green as could be in September, and without a sprinkler in sight.

I was a fish out of water, to be sure. I was the token wild westerner, a couple thousand miles from everything and everyone I knew, hanging out with a bunch of funny-looking, funny-talking strangers with names I’d never heard before.

There was the vegetable farmer with a long white beard who was also something of a poet. There was a sugarbush tapper who, when the planes crashed into the towers in 2001, started walking the next day, all the way from Burlington to New York City, pushing a cart containing messages of hope from the children of her home state.

There were hippie chefs who loved to eat red meat. There were Brooklyn Jews helping African-American grandmothers grow food on vacant ghettos lots. There was a woman in her 70s who fed herself year-round from her back yard in suburban New York State. There were environmental activists. There was a lesbian sheep farmer. There was a Buddhist monk.

And then there was me. I’m not exactly sure what qualified me to be included with this particular group of people, but let’s just assume it was something good, okay? Every once in a while I have to be reminded that this is a big giant world, and that people really are different in different places, which unfortunately means that I must be different too, and not just “normal,” which is what I generally assume.

Anyway, I was to spend a week with these people, gathering each day in a 200-year-old hand-hewn hardwood barn to talk about the one thing we all had in common: A deep concern for the fate of the American family farm.

Most of these people brought with them stories of decaying farm communities, of dispossessed families, and of the seemingly unstoppable flood of pavement and buildings rolling over the green grass, the dark soil, and the blood of the generations. The city people talked about the insanity of their daily lives, and the desperate flailing of individuals and communities that have no memory at all of what it means to be truly, deeply connected to the land.

And the activists offered confessions. They talked about how much of their work sometimes seemed so pointless. While they were saving an acre here or there, 100,000 acres were being lost forever. They wondered out loud whether all these years they had been missing the point, missing some critical piece of the puzzle.

I myself talked about the Klamath, and frankly I was moved at the responses I got from these folks – folks who fit just about every stereotype of “The Enemy” as we’ve heard it described by defenders of the Klamath agricultural community (myself included). I heard long-haired, left-wing radicals from the biggest city in the world weep audibly as I described what we – not just the farmers but all of us – had gone through over the last couple decades.

I also ended up doing a great deal of listening. In fact I’m pretty sure I learned a thing or two –the first one being this: There is nothing – nothing – more important in our lives than food.

Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Well, I’m here to tell you it is most definitely not obvious to the vast majority of people in this day and age – not to city people, not to suburban people, and not even to most rural people. We can’t even let farmers off the hook on this one. I mean, what’s crazier than a guy farming a thousand acres who goes to the big chain supermarket for most of his family’s food? Doesn’t that seem at all odd to you? If it doesn’t, then it’s good evidence of how much we’ve lost touch with what farming has always been all about. To me it’s at least as crazy as the city kid who doesn’t know that milk comes from a cow.

It’s especially silly when we consider that, even in major farm communities like ours, the store food we’re buying was trucked, trained, shipped, and/or flown in, often from a half a world away. I mean, for pete’s sake, why is it even possible to buy an Idaho potato in Klamath Falls?

For the week I was on this New England farm, we were fed three squares a day, and not a morsel was grown outside 60 miles of the farm. And we ate good, I’ll telling you, with meat and cheese and sweets to boot. Which brings me to the second important thing I learned on that trip.

There’s something fairly powerful about keeping yourself and your loved ones alive with food that came from the ground right in front of you. It makes you feel a part of a place. It makes you feel like the place is a part of you, too.

I don’t mean that in some mystical new-age kind of way, but in the most practical, matter-of-fact way possible. If you work the land, and the land makes the food, and the food makes you and yours, which makes it so you and yours can go back and work the land -- then by God you’re part of the land, and it’s a part of you, plain and simple.

There’s a holiday this month called Thanksgiving, and it’s no accident that it falls during the harvest season. The pilgrims on our holiday decorations were not grateful for shiny cars, big screen TVs, or presidential election results. They were grateful for food.

There are lots of things that we can be thankful for this month, but at the top of the list should be the food we are blessed to have on our table. This food fills our bellies, but it also fills our hearts. It fills our hearts with the love of the people seated at our table, and with love of the land where all our lives come from, and where all our lives will someday return.




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