I’m trying to put you out of business

Farmers market vegetablesMaybe not the best way to start off a conversation with your seat partner on a plane.  But I could hardly help myself.  (If you have been following my musings for a while you will know that I tend to get into some interesting conversational situations on planes!)

I was on my way back from a week of meetings in Plainview, Texas.  Now, I realize that bringing an environmental seminar to the high plains of east Texas is not the normal thing to do.  People there are warm, friendly – but pretty convinced that “environment” means “liberal” and “government” and that sort of thing, and they’re not interested.  But things are changing.  For one thing, these folks are running out of water, and they know it.  The roadside is marked by abandoned pivot-wells.   Fields have been converted to dry-land farmi ng or back to grassland.

Plainview can claim a couple of points of distinction: It’s the home of Wayland Baptist University, my host for the week (and a very welcoming host, I should add!), and one of the largest Baptist educational institution in the country.  It is also the county seat for Hale County, which I was told is this year ranked #1 among all United States counties in agricultural production – this would include cotton, of course, but also milo (sorghum), corn and cattle.  Industrial food giant Cargill runs a number of feedlots and at least one meat-packing plant in the county.  [They used to be a source of peanut butter, too – until the salmonella scandal of last spring closed down the plant there.]

I admit it – having had the opportunity to hear Michael Pollan speak at the University of Wisconsin just before this trip, I was kind of preoccupied with the topic of industrial agriculture and industrial food anyway.  So when my seat partner told me that he works with a manufacturing company in Lodi, Wisconsin, that produces industrial food processing and food packaging machines, I really couldn’t help myself.  “I’m trying to put you out of business.”

That kind of intrigued him, I think.  “What do you mean?  What do you do?”  So I started to tell him about Care of Creation, my concern for local, healthy food and so on.

About this point in the conversation we were joined by a third guy who sat in the seat in between us.  “What takes you to Madison?”  “I work with Tyson Foods.”

So I had another victim, and the conversation continued –

And then the surprising punchline.  Both of my partners said the same thing: “Farmer’s market?  Buying local?  But that’s how we eat!”

So I guess I have good news:  The industrial food system is collapsing from within!

When even its sales force, those who should believe in it most – are abandoning their own products in favor of healthy, nutritious food grown and sold in their own communities – there is hope.

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