A conversation with Grace Olmstead - S9.E9
WORLD Radio - A conversation with Grace Olmstead - S9.E9
What do we owe the places and the people we’ve left behind?
WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith, and today you’re listening in on my conversation with Grace Olmstead. She is the author of the new book Uprooted: Recovering The Legacy Of The Places We’ve Left Behind.
GRACE OLMSTEAD, GUEST: There's so much in the Scriptures about thanksgiving and operating from a position of gratitude for what you've been given. And I think something I've realized is I didn't grow up in a wealthy family or wealthy area. And yet, I have received so many blessings. And I think it's easy for us to forget the blessings that just stem from being a part of a good community, a place in which you feel you are welcomed and loved and cared for. And I think there's just a huge promise in that, and in the fact that those small efforts, those little things, those tiny crops can bear such good fruit. And so that is something I think we can and should highlight and consider in our, in our own lives to the degree that we can.
WS: It has become a cliché to say we live in a fragmented, disjointed time. The rise of the automobile and radio and television in the early 20th century, and the rise of the Internet in the late part of the 20th century, are just a few examples of the remarkable technological advances in the past 100 years. And for most of the people on the planet, the quality of life, when measured in economic terms, has improved dramatically.
But the progress has been uneven, and even those who have benefitted have sometimes mourned a sense of loss, a loss of community. Those on both the left and the right have felt the loss and tried to propose solutions. The Agrarian Movement of the 1930s, the environmental movement of the 1960s, the rise of localism and new urbanism in the 1990s and beyond have all attempted to diagnose the modern malaise, and propose solutions.
Christians, or those who lean heavily on Christian ideas, have not been absent from this movement. Wendell Berry, Rod Dreher, Patrick Deneen, Robert Putnam, and Charles Murray have all written helpfully on the collapse of community and civil society and community, and how to recover it.
To this list, I would add today’s guest, Grace Olmstead. Grace Olmstead was raised in Idaho, but came east, to Patrick Henry College, for her degree, and she has, so far at least, not returned to her hometown, a place she still loves, to live. Both her love for, and her distance from, her hometown of Fruitland, Idaho, have created in her a tension that has helped forge her beautiful new book. She avoids both a sentimental view of Rural America and the past, and an unquestioning commitment to progress. She asks tough questions about what is worth conserving and what should be discarded, and what things—once discarded—can never be recovered.
Grace Olmstead is married, with three children, and the bio on her book says she lives near Washington, D.C. But she and her family have recently moved to England where she is pursuing a graduate degree at Oxford University. She spoke to me from there, via Zoom.
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WS: Well, Grace Olmstead, welcome to the program. I've been very excited about having this conversation with you, because I'm a fan of your book, Uprooted, Recovering the Legacy of the Places We've Left Behind. And I want to begin with the genesis of the book, sort of the origins story of the book. And from after having read the book, and listening to a couple of interviews that you've done, it seems like that there are kind of two or three threads that are streams that come together in this book. One, of course, is the fact that you were raised in rural Idaho, in Fruitland, actually, even though the town is the book is mostly about Emmett. But also there was an experience that you had when I believe you were running. And you said you almost felt the presence of your your grandfather was or wasn't your great grandfather, Grandpa dad. Can you can you kind of talk about the two experiences. Tell me about your upbringing. And also tell me about that, that experience that you had?
GO: Well, first, I just have to congratulate you. Because in all the interviews I've done, I don't think anyone except for the people who are from Idaho, actually notice that I grew up in Fruitland but I'm writing about Emmett, because that's where my grandpa and my great grandpa and all the relatives before him came from. And so I corrected people a lot at first, just because I wanted to make sure that we weren't, you know, sewing too many errors about in the in the interviews I was doing. And then after a while, I just kind of gave up. But thank you. Yes, so I grew up in the small town of Fruitland, which is probably about a population of 3000 when I was growing up there and it was a town and continues to be a town in which people are close. It's very agricultural in its history and in its roots. The name of course comes from the orchard fruit that used to be grown there, fruit land. And my grandparents, great grandparents and their parents were all from Emmett. The family homesteaded there back in the early 20th century. And so we really had a sense of place and belonging in Idaho and in that part of Idaho. And I grew up eating food that was raised on my grandpa and my great grandpa's farm, and grew up feeling like I had a lot of tangible connections both to the land and the community, through the that farm and through my farmer grandpa and great grandpa, in part because they told me so many stories about the early history of Idaho, the early history of these communities, and about their neighbors and all of those stories really built the threads of the past into what I was living in my day to day life as a young person in that community. And so it became a sense of membership that I tried to write about in the book, a sense of there being this chain that connected us living in the present with people in the past but also kind of gave us a vision for the future. And so that was a very big part of my growing up years.
WS: Well you've already said about 10 things that I could probably spend 20 minutes on, one of which is this idea of fruit you said you know Fruitland was named after the orchards, the trees that were there. And you observe in the book that that growing trees, growing fruit trees, orchards, is different in a way than growing wheat or corn, even though they they grew they grew corn as well. Because trees are a crop that you would plant only if you plan to stay. There's you know, the old saying about the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second best time is today. And in some ways that that idea that they were growing fruit trees, in some ways is a metaphor for this commitment to a place, that they plan to stay there, that they plan to be there this this place plan to be home for them for, you know their lifetime and maybe many lifetimes. You also said a word that resonates with me because I'm a big Wendall Barry fan and I know you are too and that is this notion of membership. If you've ever read, you know, for example, Hannah Coulter and Wendell Berry's other books that idea of membership, membership in a community, is is important, isn't it?
GO: It is. It's the bedrock of a lot of rural communities in which people didn't always have a lot of money. They didn't have a lot of outside support coming in and so they were very much dependent on their neighbors. And this is something you see in the history of a lot of agricultural communities, that historically speaking, in order to get a crop in, in order to get a barn raised, they were always looking to the person living next door to them to lend a helping hand. And they would pay that back in their own labor in their own support when the time came. And so there was a very strong sense of neighborliness, community, and membership that undergirded. Back then just was a very necessary part of life. But I think it's it's a habit, it's a muscle that's built into the fabric of community. And it continued, at least to some extent, in my own life. There was this sense of dependence and membership and the way that people treated each other and in the ways in which we lived. And I think that when you look at the fact that people in the early 20th century, were planting fruit trees, this is a crop that doesn't mature for quite some time, and requires a lot of upkeep. It does signal something different, I think you could argue at least from planting a crop that's in the ground for a season and then easily pays dividends in the very next few months. And so it's part of, I talk in the book about this idea of boomers and stickers, which is an idea pulled from Wallace Stegner and from Wendell Berry. But they kind of argued that in the history of the United States, we've had people who are very exploitative and extractive in the way they live in their communities. They live with their with this intention of pulling resources, pulling health, and then leaving and going somewhere else that's better. Or you have people who are stickers, who really move in with this very strong desire to make the place healthier, to make it better for others, and to continue sowing good seed and continue to harvest good fruit in that community for generations.
WS: So these ideas of boomers and stickers and and and understand, I guess, you could say a realization that your family, they weren't boomers, they were stickers, didn't really fully mature in you, though, until you went away, you went off to college, on the East Coast, I believe, Patrick Henry College and in Northern Virginia. And it was kind of only then that you, a combination, maybe of nostalgia and homesickness, and maturity on your own part, reading more widely, perhaps, that you began to these ideas began to coalesce. But I want to go back to that experience that I mentioned earlier about, but we've already wandered away from it. So let me kind of come back to it. This idea where you were out one day, and you had a very palpable sense of your great grandfather's presence. Can you describe that experience?
GO: Yes, so it was Autumn. It was probably October, November, in Virginia. And I was out for a run, there's these beautiful trails in Virginia, where you get to kind of run through the country, and there'll be leaves falling, and it's gorgeous, all these vibrant reds and yellows and cinnamons. And it was my way of getting away from campus and the stress of school and my place to kind of reset. So I was just jogging along and all of a sudden, I got this strong scent of wood smoke just kind of wafted over me. And I think for a lot of human beings scents are very much tied to places and to people. And for whatever reason, in that moment, when I smelled the wood smoke, I immediately thought of grandpa dad, but in the moment it felt as if he was standing right next to me. And I could remember his voice, I could remember exactly what he looked like. I could remember the feel of his, you know, flannel shirt when he would give me a hug. And it just felt like he was so tangibly there. And I remembered the way he used to say my name very specifically because he would just say it with such joy. And so my great grandfather, Walter Howard, had a very bent back because he spent his youth all up through his later life, digging the irrigation ditches that now feed water to a lot of crops in Idaho. Many of those ditches he dug with just a spade and his two hands. And all of the manual labor he did as a young man meant that when I knew him as a little girl, when he was in his 80s and 90s, his back was bent to the point where he was almost, you know, bent toward where his head would reach toward mine. He was not necessarily frail, he was still strong, but he he was very stooped from that work and from that hard life. and so I would always remember as a little girl how it felt like he has I would meet mine almost instantaneously, even though I was just this little girl because of that. And he was just a very gentle person. So anyways, this memory brought me back to that. And it brought me back to the fact that he took so much time and care to share all these stories of place with me. And I began to think as I ran back toward the school, what this is a such a blessing, such a gift I've been given. It's really an inheritance that I received. And it's sowed a lot of blessedness in my life. I could see all the ways in which he lived, all the hard work, he poured into the soil, having very tangible benefits in my life, the life of my parents and the life of my grandparents. We all got to reap the blessings. And so I began to ask myself, well, they all stayed, they all continue to plant blessings in that community. I've left. What do I owe to the place and the people that I've left behind? What am I now to do in order to try and give back in consideration of all that I've been given?
WS: Well, that idea of legacy and indebtedness, which kind of go hand in hand. I mean, you were you received a legacy. But in some ways, it does create a debt, right? What What is it that you are going to leave behind? What is it that you owe your parents and your grandparents and your great grandparents to honor the legacy that they left for you? Those ideas are a real theme of your book. Is that fair to say?
GO: Yes, I would say so. And I think indebtedness is the theme throughout both in the personal aspects and the agricultural aspects. Because one thing I wanted to emphasize is that while we think of farming and farming operations, oftentimes in isolation, historically speaking, they were deeply intertwined and interconnected. And they only survived by helping each other by being part of community with each other. And I also just see that in my own life, that oftentimes the healthiest parts of our life are tied to community. As Christians, we see this in the church. We're called to membership, not to isolation. And so that is both a blessing and a form of indebtedness. It's both a responsibility and a gift that we receive. And I think trying to highlight that and explain it took a lot of time and thought, just because I think it's often automatic, especially when you grew up in a home or in a community where you were going to church and you saw it all around you. It can be easy to take it for granted.
WS: Yeah. Well, there's one more story that I want you to tell about grandpa dad that just really I thought was really funny and interesting, and also in some way, emblematic or metaphorical, for what some for some of the big themes that you were trying to get into your book. And that is the time that your Christian, you know, farmer, great great grandfather was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Could you could you briefly recount that story, sort of how it came about, and what that story came to symbolize for you? And I would say, it became kind of a kind of a capstone story in the book as well, that really highlighted some of the themes of the book.
GO: There was this time that the DEA showed up at my great grandpa's door because they wanted to know what he was planting in the middle of one of these cornfields. Because they had aerial footage, somehow that they'd obtained that showed that the perimeter of the field was planted with something that was not the same as what was in the center of the field. And I think he was at least in his 70s by this point. And my great grandmother explained to them that she had planted sweet corn in the middle, and then field corn, what's known as a ‘field corn’, or ‘feed corn’, which is usually fed to cows-- it's not as sweet or delicious--along the perimeter. And the reason he had done that is because the crop of sweet corn in the middle he wasn't growing for himself or to sell. It was something he actually grew to give away to people in his church, to his neighbors and to his family. But people in Idaho, probably in a lot of rural states, know the difference between the appearance of sweet corn and the appearance of fields or feed corn. And so they would kind of take some as they were driving by and since it was a crop, he wanted to keep safe for the people he was planting it for, he just planted this kind of special protective barrier around the outside. But but the crop on the inside were what I came to call his first fruits. So there's a verse in the Old Testament, in which the Israelites are commanded to take up the first fruits of their labor of their crop of their, of what they produce, and to offer it to the Lord as a sacrifice of things. And I thought about how in everything that he did, my great grandfather set aside this portion as a blessing, as a form of thanksgiving, as a as a gift. And it was something he didn't have to do. He had plenty on his plate. He wasn't a very wealthy man. He worked hard. He was. He was the sort of person though, who saw living in community and loving others and blessing them and honoring the Lord as the most important aspects of his life. And so he planted his first fruits, he planted the sweet corn. And that was the corn that I grew up eating as a little girl, because it was a gift to my parents that then would be on the table all through the winter months. And so I began thinking, well, what what are my first fruits? How do I give back? How do we as as people who aren't necessarily farmers, think about that crop that we can still plant and sow and harvest and give away in order to bless others. And I do think that theme of thanksgiving and indebtedness and aspiring to to live a life of givenness is really something that that mattered and matters a ton to me.
WS: Well, Grace, I want to pivot just a bit in our conversation and sort of ask the question, how now shall we live? I mean, the reality is that the vast majority of us don't really have agriculture as a vocational option. You observe in your book that far fewer than 2 percent of Americans now make their living from the land. And, and I would even you know, if I were going to be particularly curmudgeonly in in you know, in my question of you I would say that even people that you and I both admire, you know, who have thought thought and written deeply about this. I think of Wendell Berry. I think of Wallace Stegner. Patrick Dineen might be someone. Robert Putnam. Rod Dreyer, even. You and I, before we turned the video on, we mentioned the book American Harvest by Marie Mockett, which you've reviewed and which I've read and had her on this program. I mean, I think the hard reality is that that it's hard to imagine Wendell Berry being Wendell Berry, if he didn't go off and get a master's degree, you know, studying under Wallace Stegner, by the way. And you know, spending a tenure as a professor at NYU, and at the University of Kentucky. I mean, he would probably have gone broke and starved to death if he had to make a living as a farmer. And, and I think most of us that that resonate with what you've said up until now still are confused or frustrated, or have some anxiety about, okay, how can we live these values and these ideas out in a 21st century America?
GO: And that is such an important and difficult question for everybody, including, including me. In my book, I talk through a few different categories of rural, young people that are presented to us by the authors of Hollowing Out the Middle, who are Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas. And that's a book about brain drain kind of the literal process of young, talented high schoolers who grow up in certain rural communities leaving it behind and never coming back. But I think their insights apply to many people in America today. I kind of coupled them with some of Richard Florida's writings as well. So they kind of talked about these categories of socially mobile people in the world, more or less socially mobile. And they are the ‘leavers’ in some way, shape or form, which you could save many of which are what Wallace Stegner called boomers. I would argue not all of them, many people leave places out of dire economic necessity, or because they really need to start over somewhere else. And I think it's important to note that not everybody has that same extractive quality in the way that they move about. But then there's there's beyond the people who leave, there's the people who are stuck. And this isn't a category that Wallace Stegner posited, but I think a very real one in our world. There's a lot of people who quote unquote, ‘stick in place’, they stay in their communities, not because they necessarily want to, or have the financial social capital to build something there, but because they don't have the resources to leave. And in many ways, it would be better if they were able to leave because they are struggling, and they have no support network, and there's nothing and no one to really help them improve their lives. And that's a reality for a lot of people in the Rust Belt and post-industrial cities. It's a reality in a lot of rural America right now, that we have people who feel stuck and like they can't do anything about it.
But in addition to the people who leave and the stuck, there's this category that they talk about, these authors I mentioned, called the ‘returners’. And the returners are those who like when they'll very leave, go to the big city, maybe go to a big prestigious university, they learn a lot, their view of the world is expanded, maybe they make some money, but they're homesick. And so they end up moving back to the community or to the state where they grew up. And a lot of states and governors and a lot of authors think that the hope and the promise of rural communities are the returners. Because what they do is they they go out, they have adventures, they grow in wisdom and maturity, hopefully, but they're planting all of these things that they've learned and built back in their home soil and they're using those lessons to kind of improve opportunities for the next generation.
Richard Florida also just talks about the ‘rooted’ in his work. This idea that there are people who never leave, but can still have a massively wonderful impact on their communities and who just really have a passion for it. And my great grandfather was one of those people. He he you know, born, lived and died within probably the same about 10 mile radius, which is extraordinary and extremely rare in our world today. But I think a lot of us are going to be people who either are ‘returners’, or maybe we ended up planting ourselves somewhere else, we find different places from where we were born, and that becomes home. But the hope is that we can still bring to those places, the love and the intentionality of the ‘rooted’, of someone like grandpa dad. And I've thought a lot about Jim Elliot, in this regard. He was the one who said, wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt, every situation you believe to be the will of God. And I think in that there's this promise of our home is not on Earth. We are ultimately citizens of another kingdom. And yet, the way we live wherever God has placed us should be as if this is the place where we were born and where we're going to die. We live there with the passion of rootedness, of the ‘stickers’, of the people who say, I am going to do all in my power to bless this community and make it a better place to live.
WS: Yeah, well, you highlight some of those folks in your book, people that that found their way to Emmett or Fruitland, or environments, sort of ex urban Boise, you might even say, that that took advantage of the fact that they were near a fast growing metropolitan area like Boise, but still stayed on the land. And they did some novel things, some creative things. Can you highlight a couple of those folks?
GO: Yeah, absolutely. In Emmett itself, there is a produce farm called Waterwheel Gardens. And it was started by a family from California who really have a passion for growing local food for local people. And so they have several acres in Emmett, where they have fruit trees. They're growing fruits, they're growing vegetables, they have berry bushes, and chickens, I think for sure. And what they've done is they've built a farm that supplies local restaurants, that works with the, that has a fruit stand in Emmett, and then works with multiple farmers markets in Boise and then in Ketchum, which for those who don't know where that is, it's right outside Sun Valley.
WS: Ernest Hemingway's home. Yeah, I've just observed that Ernest Hemingway fans know where Ketchum is, right?
GO: Yeah, have to, have to put that out there. Yes. And you know, they've been working at it now for over a decade. And I'm sure in the first few years, didn't necessarily meet with a lot of success. But as they have given themselves to this community and this work, it has resulted in a huge bounty, and they are at home in Emmett now. And so I talked to Matt Williams in my book and in a visit back home this summer, in June, my mother and daughters and I got to go cherry picking at the Williams farm. And I got to meet Matt Williams' father, who started the operation and talked to him for a while. And that was just really wonderful to get to be back there. Another such couple are Peter and Susan Dill, who, Susan Dill is from Emmett, grew up there. And her grandparents owned a dairy. And then she went off to school on the West Coast and met her husband, Peter, and they got married. And when they had two children and a baby on the way they moved back to Emmett. So they were ‘returners’. They took over her grandparents' farm, which was on the verge of collapse at that point. And they built a grass fed grass finished cattle farm out of it, where they now sell grass fed beef. But they do so much more. Of course, they have pigs, they have chickens, they have vegetable garden, they have fruit trees, they have all sorts of things. But they are so rooted in the community. And they have such a heart for ministering to that community, through the food they provide and through the services that they provide in growing a healthy place. And both of them are Christians. And so our conversations really centered around this idea of how do farmers love their neighbors. Uh, and one of the ways in which they love their neighbors is by growing good food and by caring for, doing their part to caretake for the land that they own, so that it is a beautiful, a healthy place in which to live. And so one of my things I loved about the Dills farm is that whenever I asked other people in the community, what who's doing something different? Who do you see running a farm, maybe that that catches your eye. The Dills farm was the one that was mentioned over and over again. And one person in particular said, I don't know what they're doing, but it's the most beautiful land I've ever seen. So which also I think is a neat metaphor, maybe for the Christian life. And we should have that, people say that about us maybe.
WS: I'd like to kind of land this airplane a little bit, if we could here, Grace, with one more story from your book. I think a lot of people that might be listening to us will know about, you know, festivals that take place in the fall and you know, in their local communities. The thing that was fascinating about the cherry festival there in Emmett and Fruitland, is the fact that there are really very few cherry trees there anymore. In other words, the cherry festival started during an era when that was what the place was known for. I mean, obviously the town of Fruitland would you know, what speaks more eloquently to the fact that this was a land of fruit than then the name of the town. And yet the cherry festival continues, even though the number of cherry trees doesn't continue, or at least, is dramatically diminished. And in some ways, it's kind of a bittersweet story, because it does cause you to come face to face with the end of that era. And yet it also is is a hopeful story, because it it, it is a festival of people who have not given up on their legacy, who have found other ways to celebrate, and to move forward. Can you say a little bit more about that festival and why you wanted to include that story in your book?
GO: Yes, well, Emmett was a fruit town, a lot of ways it was a farm town, but its primary crop that it grew for the outside world earlier in its life would have been fruit. And so back probably between the 1930s and 1950s was when there was really a lot of intentional push to plant a lot of trees. But there would have been 1000s and 1000s of acres of fruit trees in Emmet at its peak. And the primary fruit tree amongst those was cherries. And so back, probably from I'd say the 1920s, 1930s, up until 1980s, there would have been fruit packing and distributing and processing facilities in Emmett. The train would have helped farmers get their crop to market. There were freezers, you know, large industrialized freezers that where they could store their product. There was a cannery where they could bring corn or apples or other products to turn it into a value added product. And so there was a huge industry there. It wasn't just the sort of thing where people would come in and pick some berries and bring them home. This was the cash crop, so to speak that was grown in Emmitt to feed the rest of the nation, and sometimes even the world. And so there even used to be a baseball team back in Emmett, back that back in the day called the Prune Pickers. That was their name. And the cherry festival came about, because in the midst of that, in the business of the June tree picking season, there was a man named Shorty Britton who thought it would be fun to organize a dance. And so many people were interested in this idea, there was so much enthusiasm, that he kind of got scared and passed the idea off to some local social institutions who took over and turned it into what is now the cherry festival with a parade, with a cherry festival queen, with a pancake eating contest, and floats, and all sorts of things that now are enjoyed by everyone in a huge carnival. And so this is something that has existed now in Emmett for probably 100 years or getting close to 100 years. But over that period of time, the fruit industry changed a lot. There was a lot of difficulty for farmers getting that fruit market. That market became globalized, which impacted their sales. A lot of costs went up, and the fruit trees began to disappear. Also, trees take a lot of upkeep and care. And because a lot of crops like corn are subsidized by the federal government, it's a lot cheaper and easier to grow corn, and it doesn't have some of the risks involved. And so a lot of farmers would tear out their fruit trees and plant corn instead, as well. That was a shift that started happening probably after the 1980s up until the current time. And so there were fruit trees that were being lost for decades.
And then in 2013, there was a huge tree freeze. And it wiped out most of what was left. So I think whereas there would have been, I think about 3000 trees - that sounds right to me - about 3000 trees back in the heyday of Emmett's fruit life, now there's probably about 2 to 300 acres. However, as you said, the people who own orchards and still care about it are really enthusiastic about keeping that alive. I mentioned the Williams at Waterwheel Gardens. I also talked to Lance Phillips in my book who works for the US Department of Agriculture as a full time job. But he has worked extremely hard to keep the fruit industry in Emmett alive. It's his passion. He is good at it. And he loves growing fruit for his community. And so the thing he told me was when other people rip out their trees, I just plant more. And so I'm very curious to see whether there could in fact, be a rebirth of that, at least to some extent. And one interesting thing, of course, is that as Boise grows, there's there's a larger market for agri tourism, for people to come out with their family on the weekends and to pick some peaches and bring them home, which that would not have existed back 20-30 years ago. So maybe there's hope for that as well.
WS: Yeah. Well, in fact, that's kind of what I took from your book was that there is a look backwards. But it's not just all nostalgia or, or sentimentality or, you know, mourning for what's gone by. But it is also a celebration of how human creativity can inform what is happening here. And that leads me to my next question, maybe pretty close to my final question here, Grace, which is you wrote the book came out within the last few months during the midst of a pandemic. I'm guessing, however, that you wrote most of the book, probably before the pandemic or just as it was getting started. And I do wonder, maybe something that Satan intended for evil, God might be able to use for good, which is this very pandemic. I mean, even you and I are having this conversation. I'm in Charlotte, North Carolina, you are in Oxford, where you're working on a graduate degree now, and this is a you know, this is a conversation that probably couldn't have happened as recently as five years ago. And that there are people who are I think waking up to the values that you talk about in your book, and realizing that they should be a part of our lives and a part of our communities and a part of our cultures, even if we are not all fruit farmers. Am I making too much up here? Is that kind of what you're getting at here to a certain extent, Grace?
GO: The last year was very interesting in the realm of agriculture. Everybody knows how tough it was to get toilet paper. A lot of communities were impacted in the fact that it was tough to get milk or they couldn't get meat. And we saw what happens when supply chain gets extremely efficient, which is true of U.S. agriculture. It's an extremely efficient machine. But that can lend itself then to some brittleness and some some problems when the system, one part of it fails. And during the Covid 19 pandemic, a lot of different aspects of that supply chain began to fail, many of it because of some very, very poor practices and some very unjust practices on the part of meat processing, and packing and distributing places like slaughterhouses, for instance, who were putting their workers at risk in their practices. But but also, you know, you had farmers in Idaho who harvested their potatoes, and then the person who they would normally sell the potatoes to, a lot of restaurants were closed out, for instance, they couldn't get that product to market. And so they were just selling potatoes or giving them away on the side of the road. And so we learned a lot about I think the state of U.S. agriculture. Most people would not have any desire or necessarily pure curiosity to learn more about this on a daily basis, because groceries are so easy to procure. But last year, we just saw, I think, in greater, greater understanding where we're at as a nation with our food and, and understood the fact that while it is great to have an efficient food system, maybe it's important to have a resilient one as well. And one that's a little more diverse, so that when things are slowing down or shutting down, we have multiple options to get people the food that they need to eat, that it isn't all through these extremely efficient but brittle supply chains. And so for instance, what you saw in a lot of places throughout America were local meat farmers all of a sudden had this huge surge in demand that they couldn't even meet because people were realizing Oh, there's a farmer in my community who I can actually buy food from. And you had people going to the local farmers market or signing up for a CSA, what's known as a community supported agricultural scheme, where they actually help pay for the crop that the farmer puts in the ground, and then they get a share of that crop when it's harvested. And so it was really interesting and encouraging to see a lot of these, these developments over time. Another important and promising one was just that one of the problems that a lot of small farmers face is that they have trouble finding slaughterhouses, or distribution or processing facilities that are made for them. You know, most is made for the big industrialized people. And so even if they did want to get their product to a more large regional market they can't. And that began to change last year, because of all the failures in the large systems, a lot of small farmers banded together and said, Well, maybe we can do this ourselves. So flour mills, slaughterhouses, packing and processing facilities, all of these things were beginning to pop up in response to the need for food and the demand that was created by COVID.
WS: That brings to a close my conversation with Grace Olmstead. If you’re interested in exploring some of the ideas of community and isolation we discussed today, I recommend going to the World News Group website and searching for my interviews with Rod Dreher, Marie Matsuki Mockett, and Andrew Peterson, who have all thought deeply on this topic, and whose insights make their way into our conversation. That website is WNG.org, and you can use the search engine at the top of the page.
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