My grandfather was born in Kansas, my grandmother in Arkansas. They came together to create that farm into the source of boyhood memories in the early decades of the twentieth century. They survived the dustbowl, World War II, and numerous farming hardships (weather, locusts, tornados, hail, etc). They were a part of that great transition from manual to mechanized agriculture. They were survivors in every sense. They were local.
They were able to get what they needed to subsist either by growing it or getting it from other local farmers or merchants. There wasn’t ever a thought about buying local or imported; organic or conventional. It was just local because that’s all there really was. Even by the time the government stole their farm, the US had just begun shipping grain overseas and planting the seeds for a global food system. We had yet to understand what a global food system or corporatized farm policy would do to us a nation. Today, we’re an obese nation eating vast quantities of overprocessed foods grown god knows where. But back then local was all there was.
The recent discussions over the virtues of local versus whatever else made me realize that there were times when local was all there was. Local is not some grand new idea or food trend, but rather the way it simply should be and was. Organic isn’t a new idea either. Prior to the beginning of industrial revolution and the development of pesticides, organic was just the way that people grew food. And they grew it locally, as well. Local, organic food—a so-called gold standard—imagine that. The only differences between then and now are mired in details of methodology, packaging, and promotion. And I use the word mired purposefully because to look at it any differently is to lose sight of the fact that all this discussion about “local” is really just a rediscovery of our roots and who we are as a culture and a nation.
There are many countries that have forgotten far less of their roots than us. They know and understand their roots. We’re rediscovering ours. And hopefully it is not just another food trend, because local—our history—is going to define who we become as country and culture over the next few decades. Microwaves and TV dinners are also a part of our roots. So you have to look deeper and further back to discover the true essence of what local and roots constitute. I encourage people to put down that copy of Time and rediscover the monumental writings of folks like Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. In order to Know Your Roots we must first rediscover them. And in order to rediscover them you have to find those connecting pieces whether they be a farmer, author, farmers market, or relative. My connection is my grandparent’s now flooded farm in southeast Kansas and the memories I have of such simpler times when local was our collective roots. There wasn’t anything else.