Saturday, October 29, 2011

Just me, Harpin' About that Homemade Hope

Most of us are familiar with the iconic images that came from Dorothea Lange during her years as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration (later known as the FHA). Walker Evans and Gordon Parks are also names that come up frequently in relationship to this time. There were several others who were also sent out to capture images of rural poverty in order to sell the New Deal. Politics being what they are and have always been, it's an interesting look at what has been done to carry a message out to the many.

This particular "marketing" ploy caught on more than some others, but not enough to convince the majority of farmers to become part of  "collectivized agriculture." Yes, that was one of the less-than-modest proposals. The government wanted to round up farmers in large numbers, onto government owned land, where they would produce food, with the government controlling them through "suggestions" (read: rules and regs) offered by "experts" on what would be the most efficient and profitable for "all."  When the farmers balked at this, wanting to own their own land and make their own decisions, they then made it possible to obtain loans for land, farm equipment, and new gadgetry, all at Very low interest rates. Is any of this sounding familiar?  History having a tendency to repeat itself and all.

Anyway, farmers in droves signed up for their new farm machinery, ultimating in spanking new cabs, with heat and radios to listen to the farm report. Of course, these put them deeply in debt, things started to go haywire, and farms were auctioned off, by the banks that came to own them, in huge numbers. Add Monsanto (corporate greed run amok doesn't begin to describe this fiasco) to the mix and goodbye family farms.

Farming was not an easy life, but it was a self-reliant life, at least it was before greed took hold at every level. I understand the need for rules and regs when you're talking food for public consumption, I understand that if you're willing to sign on the dotted line you have to be willing to follow those rules and regs. Taking money from the government is not without rules, all part of the big plan. So, basically, we got collective agriculture anyway, just scattered around a bit more, allowing farmers to continue for awhile under the illusion that they actually owned their farms and had a say in how it was all going to go down.

Yes, I'm off on a tangent, and I don't know for sure why, but here it is. I started out just wanting to post some interesting images from that time (and I will, very soon), but today I need to vent. I realize there are so many ways of looking at this issue, that it's a very complicated one, and my approach is an emotional one, but it's another fine example of how we are sold a bill of goods by the government, all while thinking they're doing us a big favor.

The best way out of this is to return to small community thinking and doing. Buy local whenever possible, create your own sustainability right where you're at, and forge relationships with others who will help to create a support system that is unwavering, the only rule being "love thy neighbor as thyself," which has been said in one form or another in pretty much every spiritual tradition that's ever been. It's also a good thing to follow even without the spirituality thrown in. Ethics, pure and simple.

Anyway, here is the link that got me going, got me thinking (too much, perhaps) and put me here, in this place of consternation:

I know, this isn't exactly cheery stuff here, unless we take the possibilities to heart and head in the direction of that homemade hope I've been harping about for the past couple of years.

There. I think I'm done. For now. Plus, I've used up my quota for alliteration again, unintentional though it was.

Anyway, Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer, writer, and all around good guy, says it better, and more succinctly, than I:

We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibilities that have been turned over to government, corporations and specialists, and put those fragments back together again in our own minds, and in our families and household and neighborhoods.

Photos of and by Ms. Lange.


  1. Wonderful post. Why apologize for stating a very intelligent and important fact? All you say is true. As for injecting your 'feelings' into the else could, or would, any message of import be carried? Without love of neighbor nothing would be done except that which has already been done by the corporate world, i.e., those individuals without love (feelings) for others, to the farmer, the blue collar worker and the soul of our nation, the family. We all need to hear from those with the gift and ability to pass the Word. Thank you.

  2. I agree with you. Food has become just another corporate industry and this has not been to our benefit. We are finally beginning to realize the effects of pumping our food with chemicals. We will eventually be forced to learn that the bottom line has to be humanity's and earth's survival--not profit. It is something to be emotional about. Never apologize.

  3. What great images. I do agree with you that we should be more local, although it's easier said than done. I wonder how things will develop if the world continues to get more and more corporate. Is there a natural check and balance? Interesting post.

  4. Teresa, I so agree with get the community invigorated. We need more farmers' markets and food that is unadulterated, perhaps even a little subsistence farming. I know how posts take a life of their own. Good tangent that you followed.

  5. Such a provocative post, Teresa. Thank you for the words and thoughts and the Lange pictures. Whatever the motive for the pictures, they remain in my mind as a vision of hard times and hard times overcome.

    I like the idea of "homemade hope" and all that it entails. You always seem to be able to grab the right words and tie them together in the most thought-provoking ways. Peace.

  6. I try to buy local but sometimes it's difficult to find what I need produced locally but every little bit helps. Next I try to buy made in USA, last resort is another countries product. I think the problem now is the population is outdistancing the amount smaller farmer's are able to produce.

  7. Thanks to each one of you for responding to this. I try to remain objective, and look at all sides of every issue, but this is what came forth around this one. I do so love all those photographs of that time, despite the motive and I'm certain much good came from exposing the world to them. Perhaps they did much to combat rural poverty, but it was the collectivized agriculture that made me more aware of the various ways government tries to control all aspects of our lives. I appreciate your responses.

  8. I had thought of those photos while near the Missouri River with two vehicles ahead of me packed to the hilt.It was impressive how they got all to fit and stay on the cars and boat trailers heading back to a flooded home from where they had been relocated for months.

    People would be shocked at how many corporate farms exist, it is a sad part of our economy.Substanable agriculture was part of the program I worked under doing prairie studies that was shelved by an institution known for its ag background.

  9. I feel incredibly lucky to live in a place (the Pacific Northwest) where local farming is everywhere, and I can buy local with only a very few of the items not being made and processed within a few miles from me.

    This post really made me think about how, as you say, history is repeating itself.

  10. You opened up a topic not quickly discussed. The corporations have and continue to benefit the most.

    I have issues with these "farmers" and they are of course. They had a chance to control their future but refused to get along.

    When a scheme happens these guys remind me of cartoon characters with dollars signs rolling like a slot machines in their eyes.

    Certain variety's of eggplant will produce 100 tons per acre btw.

    Coulda woulda shoulda never works for the little guy it seems.

  11. When I look around my new town and countryside, I'm reminded of Dorothea Lange's photographs, and when I think of the future of our country, I am reminded of the other Social Realists of the time. Most of this area is fixed income people, many of whom are, or used to be, farmers.

    Personally, I see little hope for change in this area.

    This was a really interesting post and I enjoyed hearing your thoughts Teresa.

  12. I forgot to add --
    I very much agree with the idea of community and buying locally. However, the one grocery store in town here is ridiculously expensive and carries nothing organic, nor do they care to contribute to the community. My point is that there needs to be competition for one to buy locally. Never thought I would say such a thing, being the wannabe socialist I am. :-)

  13. Again I thank each of your for these additional responses. These are not easy issues and there's always more to the story and many side to each issue. That adage about two sides to every story actually feels like three: somewhere in the middle is some semblance of the truth, if it's possible to even reach the truth.

    Re: shopping locally - I so understand the limitations of a very small town. I have broken this rule more than once in order to stay within a budget that feels responsible to me. It's not an easy thing to do, so "whenever possible."

  14. This is really an interesting post. It's often hard to know what one is really buying, since a homespun product name and package design might simply be a marketing subterfuge. I hereby resolve to do more research.

  15. I've noticed that, too, Nancy, packaging that appears to be other than what it is. "Natural" is a word that's bandied about a lot these days, without much for standards that must be reached.

    I'm afraid my trust level in any marketing is waaaay down. :)

  16. The only thing that endures is the energy we put into the world. Generations later people draw upon that residue of our respective lives and are sustained. I feel that most keenly in old houses, old schools, old letters and old photographs. We animate the inanimate by imbuing it with our love, time, and energy. Corporations cannot replicate that process and reliance on them to do so is never a good thing.

  17. Hi Cletis, The more time I've spend with these photographs, the more I am reminded of my initial reaction years ago. They may have been sent out to do this job, but they did it beautifully and they certainly contributed much to our awareness of people living in rural areas under meager conditions. These images endure because each of them surely is imbued with their understanding and compassion. Love resides there.

    We must not lose that.

  18. Ah, Teresa...

    I am in the process of learning how to change the artificial way I have lived most of my life. It's not easy, but it's very doable.
    I hear people all the time say "easier said than done" I don't think so, but that's a great excuse/copout. We are so accustomed to being the way we are. Eating whatever we want, no matter where it comes from, no matter what cost. Buying whatever and however much of it we want--no matter what.

    It's really all about something Astyk calls the "Theory of Anyway" in her book Independence Days. Doing the right thing. Doing the things we should be doing "Anyway". I highly recommend this's opening my eyes. And I already live and do a lot of these things out here on my little piece of dirt.

    We have all been pretty bamboozled by the government and the media and marketing companies. We need to wake up. The time has come.

    Another e.coli outbreak has happened in the big city near me. I don't have to worry as much, because I grow most of my own food. I buy from other small farmers and growers that live near me. One of many reasons to buy locally. I see what they do and I know their hearts a lot more than I know Monsanto or DuPont (who have no hearts). lol

    I believe that all this is happening for a reason. Our evolution took some wrong turns, maybe, and nature is trying to right itself once more.

    Great post. And the pictures...omg. Especially the man and woman looking into the camera. I see that every day around here where I am blessed to live.


  19. Akannie, I have been working on the same thing, changing the way I live. It's a slow process for me, but this piece of land is teaching me, day by day, how to do just that.

    It's time for change, it's time to wake up and contribute to the necessary changes. really like what i read in your blog about how you're living your life and it's very inspiring.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments to these ideas I posted here.