Saturday, July 5, 2008

VC this week + Summer Reading: Corn & Me

The picture to the left is my grandparents' farm, ca. 1940.  My parents live there today, but it looks very different (except the house).  All the fences, and most of the small buildings, are gone; now there's a large system of grain bins and elevators on the east end of the farm, past the barn, which is still (barely) standing.

Dear People--As usual I'll be in the Emporium on Monday at noon, for anyone who wants to chat with me about Village business ahead of our next meeting, which will be held in the Bryan Ctr. this Monday, July 7, 7 pm.

There's not a lot on our agenda, but it's all pretty important.

First, we'll consider five resolutions relating to:
1) renewing the Village Treasurer's employment contract (a small raise included); 2) establishing green pricing in Yellow Springs; 3) initiating the employment contract with our interim Village Mgr.; 4) authorizing the interim Village Mgr.'s signature on our bank accounts; 5) authorizing the hiring of an administrative assistant for the Village Mgr.

Second, we'll hear a special report from Don Vermillion of the University of Dayton who has been suggested as a consultant for helping us initiate a search for a new village manager. It's my hope that someone like Professor Vermillion, who is a local consultant in this area, may be able to provide us better, vetted candidates than we could get from depending on our own stretched resources, and, reportedly, at a considerably lower cost than the fees many head-hunting firms charge. I will appreciate your thoughts and input on this process.

Third, we'll be discussing two items of "old business": 1) The director of our Wastewater Treatment Plant, Joe Bates, will be on hand for a discussion of where we stand in regard to the EPA's concerns about the plant. (The YS News's article on this issue is here. I'm happy to answer any questions about my quoted statements in that piece.)
2) John Grote, our chief of police, will help us understand security issues, etc. raised by the Antioch Closure and what is being done to address those issues. (We also received a letter from Colin Altman, Miami Township Fire Chief, directed to Tom Faeke, related to the issue, which is in our packets this week, which was also reported on in the most recent issue of the YS News.)

Fourth, under "new business" we'll be discussing and developing a "Work/Action Plan" for the village, for the next several months while we are in a state of transition under interim manager Weithofer. During this time we are planning to attend to several items of work that need our most immediate attention. Given our stretched resources and the uncertainties represented both by the Antioch and other situations, and the need to find a new manager, we need to think very carefully about what we can realistically accomplish at this time and how to best set up our next manager for success here. The main things, as I understand it, that we are likely to focus on include the WWTP issue; the Antioch situation and its implications for the village; and some specific issues related to streets/infrastructure--repairs and construction within already established new developments (e.g., the already-promised infrastructure for the CBE), in addition to hiring a permanent manager.

If you have thoughts or concerns about what we as a village should prioritize over the next several months, or how we should approach these challenges, please do attend, listen, ask questions, and speak up.

Summer Reading. (A longish biographical aside, which you may not have time for.) These last two weeks, I've been gobbling books. I read Don Delillo's Falling Man, Wendy Lee's Happy Family, and have just started in on Louise Erdrich's A Plague of Doves. Each of those works of fiction from the past two years or so has me intrigued.

But I've also finally been reading the Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Early in the book he visits an Iowa farm and traces not only the path that a typical bushel of corn takes these days, into beef feedlots, high-fructose corn syrup, ethanol, and chicken mcnuggets, but also the strange long history of that plant, worshipped by the Aztecs for centuries, now spilling recklessly into the mud by the grain elevator in my home town, and profoundly profitable to Cargill and ADM (not so much to the actual farmers).

This book has particular resonance to me, as a person who grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Iowa, and who now lives here in Ohio, surrounded by a summer sea of grain commodities. Corn has probably contributed most of the carbon atoms in my body (and yours). Corn also paid for my education. Virtually every job I had through college was directly related to grain commodity production and consumption. Corn literally made me who I am. But its mass production also literally obliterated the house and farm I was raised on (you can see my family standing in front of our old, now demolished home, if you want to pay to see this New York Times article from 1970. Or email me and, if you're polite, I'll send you an electronic copy.)  The vagaries of the corn market nearly plunged us into bankruptcy during the farm crisis of the 80s. As I was growing up and away from the farm, corn production was dramatically re-shaping the whole layout and architecture of the farm my grandparents bought and on which my parents still live today, as well as the nearby towns. The area is much emptier (of people) and a less sustainable place than it was 70 years ago when my immigrant grandfather purchased that property. 

At a party several years ago while I was in graduate school, I was explaining to a man I'd just met (and have never seen again) how I had rejected farm life and all it entailed, and my guilt about that abandonment. He said blandly, "Ah, but it also rejected you." I was a little shocked, at the time (me? a reject??), but it stayed with me today because, as it happens, it's true. 

That region has been deliberately cleared of people and farm animals and communities. Of people like me. This happened through technological "advances" and federal policies designed to promote the overproduction of this one beautiful, highly manipulated plant. The tidal wave swept me here, amongst you, even as I thought I was making my own decisions. Yet, I carry the corn inside me. It is me. And of course, here in southwest Ohio, we are still surrounded by it.

Today, the fields upon fields of even rows of identical green plants remind me (and Pollan) of erect, uniformed soldiers. And rightly so, as soldiers in sand-colored uniforms fight and die in Iraq for the petroleum resources, at least 25% of which go to growing our industrial food supply, Pollan explains. And yet those fields are still achingly beautiful to me, summer evenings, glittering fireflies.

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