Get to know some Iowa corn farmers • Maple syrup scare • Saudis look for food security in Canada • Rural democrats frustrated • Do you really own that tractor? • Advice from an obituary writer
Liz core, an Iowa-born writer for Grist, takes a trip home to meet the farmers behind the massive squares that make up the state’s commodity corn farms.
Really, I did more than just meet them. I chatted about agricultural policy over cinnamon-spice tea; toured a thousand-acre farm in a fourwheeler seated next to a labrador; and played peek-a-boo with shy, barefoot farming boys.
Iowa commodity growers are often demonized for what and how they grow, and monocultures andethanol aren’t exactly healthy for the planet. But all of the farming families I talked to expressed a deep respect for the land and the desire to take good care of it for the next generation. If we want to understand how and why our agriculture system is the way it is, we’d be wise to approach all farmers with an open mind.
When an out-of-state company started buying up thousands of maple-tree-filled acres of Vermont land, some small syrup producers got a little antsy. Not to worry, says Sweet Tree, the buyer of the land, they aren’t looking to break into the syrup industry.
About 15 miles down a pot-holed Route 114, Sweet Tree CFO Michael Argyelan is showing its new processing plant to local and state economic development officials. He starts with a reassuring announcement.
“We’re not gonna sell syrup. We’re gonna use the syrup to make other things, so this way we won’t disrupt the maple market in the state or the United States. So we’re not gonna dump product just to make money, that kind of thing,” Argyelan explains.
But by the time the tour reaches the room with four gigantic steam-powered evaporators (eventually there will be eight, capable of processing over 300,000 gallons of syrup a year), Argyelan eventually drops a tantalizing hint. He says his wife is trying out one of his experiments — a facial scrub made from the gritty maple sand left behind after boiling.
In an attempt to secure food supplies, Bunge Ltd., a Saudi Arabian state-owned investment firm, will buy a controlling share in a Canadian grain handler.
"Canada is a major wheat grower and exporter, and Saudi Arabia relies on imports to meet its growing demand for food," SALIC Chairman Abdullah Al-Rubaian said in a statement, adding G3 would "strengthen grain off-take and export capabilities in Canada".
In a multibillion-dollar search for food security, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf desert states, which rely on imports for 80 to 90 percent of their food needs, have invested heavily in agricultural projects overseas since 2008.
Rural democrats are getting frustrated by the party’s national effort, or lack thereof, to court white, working class males.
Last month, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), who previously served as mayor of his state's fourth-largest city, made headlines when, as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, he said the party should stop trying to win back white male voters.
"The first thing they ought to be doing is paying attention to the folks on the ground who are closest to the rural areas. They need to be moving downstream to engage more at the county and community level on organizational and messaging strategies," said Nate Timm of Mazomanie, Wis., chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's Rural Caucus. Timm complained that too many of the campaign managers he deals with are "urban outsiders" and of too much top-down consultant-driven advice "and in Wisconsin, that has not been proven to be a good strategy."
John Deer, General Motors, and a growing number of manufacturers, have recently made claims that if you buy one of their products, like a tractor that could cost tens of thousands of dollars, you don’t actually own the machine. You’re just using it. These makers say that, because of the proprietary computer software used to run the machine, you are paying for a license to operate it. Like when you click the “accept” button when installing a new version of iTunes. Except way, way, way more expensive.
Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] to argue that consumers do not own the software underpinning the products they buy—things like smartphones, computers, coffeemakers, cars, and, yes, even tractors. So, Old MacDonald has a tractor, but he owns a massive barn ornament, because the manufacturer holds the rights to the programming that makes it run.
Snark alert for this next paragraph.
It makes sense to John Deere: The companyargues that allowing people to alter the software—even for the purpose of repair—would “make it possible for pirates, third-party developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software.” The pièce de résistance in John Deere’s argument: permitting owners to root around in a tractor’s programming might lead to pirating music through a vehicle’s entertainment system. Because copyright-marauding farmers are very busy and need to multitask by simultaneously copying Taylor Swift’s1989 and harvesting corn? (I’m guessing, because John Deere’s lawyers never explained why anyone would pirate music on a tractor, only that it could happen.)
The Huffington Post talks to Heather Lende, author of "Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer." Lende has spent years writing obits for the newspaper in Haines, Alaska. Here’s my favorite nugget:
8. What are you waiting for?
I'll write about somebody who at 70 is going to raft down the Grand Canyon. They're doing something adventurous like that. And then sometimes I do obituaries for people who are — it's almost the opposite.
They said they always wanted to go to Africa, or they were saving up money to go on safari, and then they died. And you think, if you have something you really want to do, maybe you should go sooner. I hate writing an obituary where some family member will say, "They had planned to do this, and they had planned to do that."
Do it while you can. What are you waiting for? You just never know; people are here one day and they're gone the next.
— Shawn Poynter