The margins in mind are those boundaries between human habitation and cultivation and the wild places of nature, those intersections between settled places and wilderness. It may be nothing that more than that patch of weeds in the corner of the garden or field, or the few scrub trees and bushes springing up along the fence lines. It may be the roadside ditches on country lanes. Or it may indeed be the boundary between farmland and a state park or between the field and the creek or river or prairie or forest.
South Dakota's agriculture secretary says new rules covering the production, testing and labeling of raw milk sold in the state will take effect Dec. 11. The Agriculture Department had been trying to pass the rules since last spring and has held three hearings on the issue. The Legislature’s Rules Review Committee approved the changes earlier this month.
BROOKINGS, SD – SDSU Extension regional centers in Sioux Falls and Watertown will host soil health educational forums next month. The SD's Soil Health Challenge: Don't Get Left in The Dust events will feature information on soil organic matter, weeds, cover crops and wet soils. Each will also feature a panel of farmers who will share some tips on what has, and what has not, worked on their farms.
So why should it be troubling to see more and more shelter belts and fence lines and pioneer wood groves being bulldozed and burned and buried? Or hasn’t anyone else noticed the disappearance of landmarks that have graced our landscape for some 100 years now? Even those of us native to this place find ourselves lost on familiar country roads when we come to intersections that used to mark a farm or a grove of trees, as my brother who now lives in Michigan and I discovered when we were out for a drive a few weeks ago.
Last August, Dick Thompson of Boone, Iowa, died. Thompson was an “alternative farmer” before that came to be a common thing, as it is today. A founder of Practical Farmers of Iowa, Thompson and his wife Sharon believed strongly that a healthy agriculture/rural community involves an integrated system of land, crops, livestock and family. I remember him speaking at rural life conferences in Iowa during the farm crisis of the 1970s, though it isn’t clear to me that that crisis has ever stopped.
My part-time work at Heritage Hall Museum reminds me at every turn of the history of this rural community, and its agricultural roots. The larger Freeman community was established mostly by Germans from Russia, who arrived here in the 1870s, now 140 years ago. They were an agrarian people, with a long history of living on the land, coming here as faith communities of Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic and Mennonite faith.
It’s alarming for someone like me, who grew up in this community, to see the disappearance of landmarks familiar from my childhood—groves of trees, fence lines, farm places, schoolhouses, churches. This trend has accelerated in recent years as corn prices have risen due to the artificial ethanol bubble with its demand for corn. Perhaps it could be argued that the landscape looks more like it did when settlers first arrived here 140 years ago—flat open prairie with nothing obstructing the view.
Many regular readers of this column may know that my wife and companion for the past 43 years died in October. Loretta was a beautiful and gifted woman of course (I’m not prejudiced), but what strikes me as I reflect on her life is what a quintessentially rural person she was. Loretta was born in southwest Minnesota, the eldest daughter of a farm couple who courted and married during the height of World War II.
Rural sociologists define cultural capital in terms of the values and symbols reflected in the artifacts used by a particular community. (Cornelia Butler Flora & Jan L. Flora, Rural Communities: Legacy and Change, Boulder: Westview Press, 25.) Cultural capital is the legacy that enables individuals to “know who they are” and how to make their way in life. Families and the communities in which they live pass on to their children the tools they perceive to be needed for their children’s survival and well-being, whether in the form of land or education or other resources.
Historically, rural communities like ours here in Freeman have experienced a decided disadvantage within the dominant urban cultures where they have lived. While urban centers depend on rural communities for their food, fiber and the raw materials of urban life, their numbers, wealth and power far outstrip those of rural communities. Rural communities typically live under the shadow of the “metropolis,” which literally means “mothercity.” Decisions affecting life in rural communities are often made not by rural residents, but by government bureaucrats, corporate boards, and elite specialists centered in the city.