Rural America

The Quiet Month

January was a quiet month on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth. Maybe it was quiet because we were quiet, drained after December’s month-long buildup to Christmas and New Year’s. Maybe it was quiet because most of our farm machines, like all of our fields, were quiet.
Whatever the reason, January still brought 100 […]

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On the Road: New York City

Chelsea Market, a block-long, block-wide brick building in New York’s lower west side, was built 120 years ago on the edge of the city’s then-bustling meatpacking district to house a rising food powerhouse, the National Biscuit Company.
It was no accident that the-state-of-the-art food factory was located near the city’s slaughterhouses; the neighborhood was knee-deep in […]

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Who’s The Boss?

In the world of agricultural cooperatives there’s none bigger than Minnesota-based CHS Inc. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the energy, grain, food, and farm supply giant did $42.9 billion in business in its fiscal year 2014.
That makes the mighty CHS bigger than Deere & Co., DuPont, and Tyson Foods, and far bigger than […]

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Crop Insurance Goes Global

It was the legislative equivalent of pulling an elephant out of a hat as the stage curtain was about to fall.
The day before the House of Representatives voted 266-167 to approve a long-sought, two-year federal spending deal, House and Senate ag committee members complained that the proposed deal—unseen and unaudited—contained an eight-year, $3-billion cut to […]

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Hi, My Name is America and I’m a Reductionist

Most Americans like things simple because, well, life is just simpler that way. We like our choices even more simple—up or down, baked or fried, boxers or briefs—because we believe simple choices shorten the odds of mistaken choices.
Our friends in ivory towers disagree. Reductionism—their big word for making problems small—actually increases the odds of making […]

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Surprise! (Not)

The recent history of the third most powerful constitutional office in the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is so checkered that you have to seriously examine the background of anyone who seeks it.
For example, in June 1989, Texan Jim Wright, who had been Speaker for two years and change, resigned when […]

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Mind the Gap

A lashing, late afternoon thunderstorm roared through Chicago Friday, Sept. 18 to power wash Northerly Island, a tongue of land jutting into Lake Michigan just east of the city’s Loop and site of the 2015 Farm Aid concert. By noon Saturday, however, a bright sun danced with puffy clouds and the Windy City’s sweeping skyline […]

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Diversity and Resilience versus Corn and Soybeans

By car, Quebec City, Quebec, is 1,840 miles from Bismarck, ND. I know because in the last two months I have seen every mile of highway between North Dakota’s state capital on the Missouri to Quebec’s provincial capital on the St. Lawrence.
Interestingly, as you drive west to east across arguably some of the New World’s […]

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The Summer of Honey

Faithful readers of this weekly effort may recall my darling, but dangerous Uncle Honey. He was my hometown’s quiet, easy-going milkman who retired to the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth to break, bend or beat up any plant, animal or machine unlucky enough to be nearby when Honey “helped” my father.
It wasn’t intentional; […]

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No Immigrants, No Food

To hear most of the 2016 Republican presidential candidates tell it, the nation’s biggest problem is illegal immigration.
That’s right; it’s not the incendiary Middle East, the ever-on-edge global financial markets, ballooning overpopulation, rapid climate change, or terrorism either here or abroad. It’s illegal immigration.
It’s so bad, shouts poll-climbing billionaire Donald Trump, that the only solution […]

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