Sunday, March 30, 2008

no place like home

kansas. all 7 hours of it. i really wanted a picture of one of the signs reading "1 kansas farmer feeds 128 people and you", but you take what you can get in a speeding car.
on our trips out west when i was a kid, kansas was the dreaded mundanity in the middle. however, now i look at kansas through a whole other set of lenses. kansas is a wheat state. hard white wheat in particular, i recently learned, which is used for bread flour. the wide expanse of fields has a certain beauty, even at this gray time of year, when i think about the path our food takes. the grain silos rise up from the grasses. railcars wind, serpentine, across the landscape. i start to think about the people on the farms and the processes that bring me my food. it makes the state look entirely different.
i don't know much about farming, or the plight of the farmer in the u.s. i have read a little about corn and what government subsidies and inflated production have done to the market. i don't know if wheat farmers face a similar scenario, but it is mind-boggling to consider how so many things are interconnected. the way i understand it with corn, subsidies increase production, which floods the market, which drives the price down, which means farmers have to use more of their land to produce to make up for losses. then we have to find all kinds of interesting uses for the surplus, including training cattle to eat it instead of grasses. yikes. my head is spinning, and that's the oversimplified version. (time has an article this week about corn-based ethanol called 'the clean energy scam':,9171,1725975,00.html)
i have always been a huge fan of the wizard of oz (the books and the movie). awhile ago, i attempted to read 'the historian's wizard of oz', which discusses the wizard of oz as an allegory for the politics of the 19th century, in particular the people's party and the western farmer's opposition to the gold standard. i did not understand most of what i was reading and stopped after the first chapter. it seems like something i should revisit, especially since understanding the politics (even through allegory) during that time will aid my understanding of the food industry as it stands today.
unfortunately, i did not get to visit the oz museum. it was closed by the time we reached it. i also did not get to see the world's largest prairie dog, who on some signage is purported to weigh 8000 pounds. i do have to say, however, kansas does have some beautiful stars.

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