Monday, March 06, 2017

English sheep farmer visits rural U.S., says what's happening in rural America impacts whole world

James Rebanks on his sheep farm in England
(Guardian photo by Christopher Thomond)
James Rebanks, a sheepherder and farmer from England who recently made his first trip to the U.S. one week before the presidential election as part of a book tour, gives his viewpoint of the state of rural America and how it affects the world in an opinion piece for The New York Times.

"I was shocked by the signs of decline I saw in rural America," he writes. "I saw shabby wood-frame houses rotting by the roadside, and picket fences blown over by the wind. I passed boarded-up shops in the hearts of small towns, and tumbledown barns and abandoned farmland. The church notice boards were full of offers of help to people with drug or alcohol addictions. And yes, suddenly I was passing cars with Trump stickers on their bumpers, and passing houses with Trump flags on their lawns."

"The economic distress and the Trump support are not unconnected, of course," he writes. "Significant areas of rural America are broken, in terminal economic decline, as food production heads off to someplace else where it can be done supposedly more efficiently. In many areas, nothing has replaced the old industries. This is a cycle of degeneration that puts millions of people on the wrong side of economic history."

"For my entire life, my own country has apathetically accepted an American model of farming and food retailing, mostly through a belief that it was the way of progress and the natural course of economic development," he writes. "As a result, America’s future is the default for us all. It is a future in which farming and food have changed and are changing radically—in my view, for the worse. Thus I look at the future with a skeptical eye. We have all become such suckers for a bargain that we take the low prices of our foodstuffs for granted and are somehow unable to connect these bargain-basement prices to our children’s inability to find meaningful work at a decently paid job."

"Our demand for cheap food is killing the American dream for millions of people," he writes. "Among its side effects, it is creating terrible health problems like obesity and antibiotic-resistant infections, and it is destroying the habitats upon which wildlife depends. It also concentrates vast wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands.

"I have come home convinced that it is time to think carefully, both within America and without, about food and farming and what kind of systems we want," he writes. "The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource. Despite the growing scale of the problem, no major mainstream politician has taken farming or food seriously for decades. Suddenly, rural America matters. It matters for the whole world." (Read more)

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