Plowed Under

Plowed Under, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas board, 16x12

Plowed Under, oil on canvas board, 16×12

I STILL CANNOT GET USED to seeing fields of perfectly good produce plowed under. It’s happened four times since August, first cucumbers, then buttercup squash, pumpkins, and now, onions.

There’s no single, one-size-fits-all explanation. It could be that the bottom of the market dropped out because too many people planted too much of the same thing at the same time. It could be part of a deliberate surplus planned by the farmer as a hedge against losses due to disease or weather.

It may be that the farmer is simply doing what he has always done. It could be poor guesswork. Perhaps the crops suffered from some pestilence invisible to the naked eye.

It’s hard to think that it would cost the farmer more to harvest the crop than to plow it back in, though that is often the case. But we cannot disguise our concern by simply attributing it to our sentimental, altruistic love for the family farm. We all have a stake in regional agriculture.

There is no substitute for a safe and secure source of healthy food grown locally. Nothing tastes better, either, than produce in season, fresh off the tree or vine.

Our farms double as giant, unkempt parks, minus fees or concession stands. We walk, run, and bike on them at all hours and take photographs of the diverse flora and fauna we encounter in their fields and forests, swamps and streams.

Farmland comprises much of our visual landscape. We drive by and through farms on our way to and from work, along the interstate, even on the edges of our cities. It’s why many of us chose to live where we do: either because we have direct access to our farms and orchards, or they are not far away.

Nature is sloppy, and there will always be a certain amount of waste in all human endeavors. We’re built that way. Farmers are like everyone else, too, in that some are better than others when it comes to running a business. There’s a lot more to sustained profitability than putting seeds in the ground.

Many farmers may be understandably cautious, too, about trying new things when they are unsure of the market for them. However cheaply they sell, people will always buy staples like onions and squash.

All these may explain why good crops are sometimes left to rot. But when prime farmland is turned into house lots or a local farm is downsized or expires, we are all poorer for it.

Paying a premium for locally grown food is a small price for the material benefits that come with it, benefits that food from elsewhere can’t provide. We need our local farmers to be successful, knowing that not all of them will succeed.

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