Letter from Langdon: I’ll Be Dirt

What's happening to the Missouri soil? Richard Oswald has pressing reasons to know.

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I’m at the age where I have to acknowledge I may not live forever.

When I was born, the only things my closest ancestors had ever consumed as food came from northwest Missouri soil. When my end of days comes, I will be returning to the earth from which I sprang. You see, my DNA comes from Europe, but the flesh and bone were built from good old Missouri clay.

For four generations before I got here, my family ate local. Back in those days they lacked the technology to move fresh food across broad areas of the country; we fed ourselves. My family ate beef, pork, and poultry raised on their own farms. About a year ago while waiting in a car dealership in Mound City, Missouri, I browsed a book of local history and learned that in the early 1900’s there was a tomato cannery just south of here about 30 miles. That seems almost unbelievable here in corn country. (The 2007 farm bill forbids commercial vegetable production on row crop acres.) Chances are my forebears didn’t eat those vegetables then, because they grew their own.

The soils of Atchison County, Missouri

Since I arrived on the scene everything has changed. When I return to my native soil, I will leave behind some distinctive foreign residues, because today I eat things from all over the world. If I were to eat nothing but the corn I grow right here, I’d still taint the soil because more and more of the fertilizer I use to grow that corn comes from Russia or China where they avoid adulterating their own food by mixing into exports poisonous manufacturing by-products like cadmium and lead. I’ve probably had a dose of Asian melamine and didn’t even know it.

Just one month ago we thought Country of Origin Labeling would distinguish our domestic food from imported food. Then, somehow, in the rulemaking, USA came to be spelled NAFTA, and a gateway for more foreign competition and contamination was opened.

Monona silt loam, Atchison County, Missouri

I may be a dying breed.

Even the power generators just to the north of here where they create electricity from coal are changing the composition of my progeny by adding outland sulfur (good for corn) and mercury (bad for everything) to our fields.

We have a national preoccupation with health and safety, yet we support ever larger corporations in charge of our energy, our health care, and our food. Many of them aren’t even US companies. We handed $350 billion to a few big banks. All we got in return was a request for $350 billion more. With small scale food production being labor intensive, I wonder what investing just one-half-of-one percent of the banker bailout would do for local food supplies, local renewable energy … and jobs?

It would be exciting for America if the Obama Administration and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack decided to help local food producers establish themselves and compete fairly with big corporate food refiners.

It might even help cleanse the earth a bit before I have to go back to it.

 

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