Rural America

Welcome Back, Foodie

We didn’t know it back then but everyone on the big southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth was a foodie.
Of course there was no one named Bittman or Pollan or Waters to tell us we were foodies but there were people named Mom and Grandma and Aunt Nina whose food knocked your socks off […]

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Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

Originally published in 1994, “Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving” continues to be the most requested, most reprinted Farm and Food File column. The column inspired The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey which will be published by The University of Illinois Press in May 2015. 
The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods that […]

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Groundhog Day, Again and Again

Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, Christmas in the windshield, and given the glacial pace of key policy decisions awaiting resolution in Washington, D.C., it’s just another Groundhog Day out here in rural America.
Those decisions, after two years of heavy duty do-nothingness, are coming slower than the deadlines faced by this Congress and the new […]

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All Right Already, Fix It

If you ran your farm or ranch like the White House and Congress run the federal government, your corn would never get planted and your cows would be long gone.
Of course, if you ran your farm or ranch anywhere near the level of—what?— the scornful divisiveness and almost pure reactionary politics that now guide Congress […]

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Bring It On

Fall’s first frost, usually a mid-October event in my adopted central Illinois, waited until the last possible monthly moment—deep into Halloween night—to finally show winter’s white face.
We didn’t so much see it coming as feel it coming. A stern northwest wind arrived before sun-up that day and built into a gale by noon. It scattered […]

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2014 Farm Bill: “Immense Bundle of Subsidies”

In a series of toughly-worded articles published in Choices, the quarterly journal of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA), nearly every major element of the 2014 Farm Bill—from its expanded crop insurance program to its impact on global trade negotiations—comes under fire as either “perverse,” “false,” “vacuous,” “absurd,” “failing,” or “wasteful.”
The seven articles, overseen […]

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Who Knew…

… that Bill Gates, the Harvard drop-out who co-founded Microsoft, owns 8.4 percent of Deere & Co., worth about $2.5 billion and “at least 100,000 acres of farmland in California, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana and other states” that includes a 490-acre Wyoming ranch once owned by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Gates also holds a stake (oh […]

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Slouching Toward Election Day

There are facts on which the world operates and there are facts on which politics operate. Spoiler alert: the two are not the same.
For example, key Republicans in both the U.S. House and Senate have fought every effort this year to allow Congress a vote to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour […]

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Change on the Wind

The early morning wind rises with the sun from the east. Where I live, an east wind blows change. There’s a meteorological explanation for this, of course, but long before there was meteorology or meteorologists the east wind blew change.
The wind (it’s not a breeze) rattles the two black walnut trees in the far backyard […]

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Say What?

Farmers and ranchers have a well-deserved reputation for straight talk. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say, after all, were essential elements in the handshake deals that were the hallmark of rural business for generations.
They still are.
Now, however, some folks outside the nation’s fields and fences are working overtime to wash—and, in many […]

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