Now that the 2012 Election season is firmly upon us, and candidates are expounding on such important issues as family dog transportation and Secret Service shenanigans in Columbia, it’s time once again to brace ourselves for a predictable deluge of political catch-phrases, intended to divide and conquer us.
As someone who raises red meat for a living, it’s especially hard to listen as candidates throw their own brand of ‘red meat’ to their constituencies, taking for granted such a precious commodity. They fire up their voters with non-stop sound bytes and saber-rattling, insisting that their opponent, if elected, will eliminate Baseball, Apple Pie, and, in all likelihood, the American Way.
After a lifetime of listening to this hogwash, I’ve learned to shake my head, and change the radio station to something more philosophically illuminating. Usually, it’s the new Lady Gaga song.
Come to think of it, I was listening to the radio (Kelly Clarkson’s speciously titled ‘What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger’… actually, Kelly, what doesn’t kill you sometimes puts you in traction. But I digress.) when I noticed that my neighbor, also a cattle farmer, was tearing out a half-mile of ancient, dilapidated, rusted fence. A day later, a local fencing crew showed up, and began pounding weather-treated posts into the rain-softened April ground. Yesterday, brand new wire appeared, stretched and gleaming in the bright sunshine, and today the finishing touch of barbed wire was stretched.
Presto change-o. In one week, out with the old, in with the new. It’s actually rather reminiscent of election day.
Since we’re already mired in another season of political catch phrases, I think it would be interesting to examine one that I’ve heard all my life, and apply it to our local food network: trickle-down economics.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a rehash of Reganomics or Keynesian theory. Rather, let’s consider the most generalized aspect of this philosophy: that money, somehow, starts out on ‘top’, and subsequently trickles ‘down’.
Recall the last time you were out for a walk in the country, visiting your aunt Millicent. Do you remember that scenic fence paralleling the road, the one keeping all the cattle off the pavement? Think about your long, rambling walk. Was it a half mile long? A mile? As your peregrination progressed, did the fence make a left turn, and disappear over the distant horizon?
Now for some simple math. The price of putting up new fence these days is $3.50 a foot, and an average human stride is roughly 3 feet. 3 x $3.50 = $10.50 a step. For the sake of even easier math, let’s round this number down to $10. A mile, 5280 feet, divided by a 3 foot pace, times 10 dollars, is $17,600. And let’s not forget, we dropped off fifty cents per foot at the outset, or what amounts to nearly another thousand bucks.
Of course, fields have more than one side… otherwise, we’d be living in the 2nd dimension! Since most fields are more or less square in shape, we should probably go ahead and multiply that number by 4.
Suddenly, our $18K fence has become a $72K fence. Wowzers.
Since we’re already in imagination mode, let’s momentarily shift locations, to your neighborhood farmers market. You’ve made a conscientious decision to shop here, bypassing the generic chain stores in order to support local farmers. You believe in the merits of eating local, and are convinced that by shopping with local farms, your dollar is making a difference within the agricultural community. If you spend your money here, you tell yourself, you are strengthening the regional economy, as well as reinvesting in the future of sustainable agriculture. You believe that, somehow, your dollars will ‘trickle down’ to the people who help grow this food.
Guess what? You’re right. Here’s why.
Money spent at farmers market never simply stops with the farmer. He might use some of it to buy more cattle from other local farms, ensuring the new fence has a greater purpose. Vegetable farmers love good fences, too, to keep away deer, and other veggie-munching varmints. A portion of your money will certainly end up at the local butcher shop, which will process the grass-fed meat, or the summer interns who are training to be new farmers, planting and picking the vegetables that season.
It will go to the local fence supply company, to buy the wire and posts, and the hardware store for staples and brace wire. Some of it might be paid to the fence construction crew, and some will undoubtedly be distributed to the farmer’s employees, who will help him maintain it. A little bit will go to the truck drivers who deliver the materials, and some will ultimately go to the forester who grew the trees from which the posts were made.
To quote my friend and author Nina Planck, “If you eat the view, you’re able to preserve the view.”
Poetically, imagine each of these people as a post, supporting an economic fence. If a post or two goes missing, it’s easy to see how the entire fence will fall down. From market customers to local butcher shops to fence suppliers to the farmers themselves, this money is ‘trickling down’ in a way that is straight-forward, intentional, and transparent. Frustratingly, these desirable qualities are always elusive around election time.
(In the interest of full disclosure, calls to my local Super Pac, “Politicians for Farmers Who Support Donations to Super Pacs” went unreturned.)
If our candidates were required to build a mile of good, solid fence every election cycle, both the political and rural landscape would look a lot different. Which politician can dig a post hole the fastest, or pull the straightest, tightest barbed wire? Now that would be entertainment Democrats and Republicans could agree to support.
In the meantime, however, it’s back to our regularly scheduled gaffes and mud slinging. Although I’m tempted to sit in front of my t.v. this fall, playing bingo each time a candidate utters the phrase ‘Trickle Down Economics,’ I think I’ll be out front near the road instead, working on the old fence. Maybe I’ll see you out there.