Posted on December 1, 2008
Farm freebies don't foretell doom
Obviously, we're headed into challenging economic times, but can things really be as bad as the Associated Press describes them? A November 23rd AP article about a Colorado farm was so bleak that it read like a Steinbeck novel, except that it was more coherently written, and slightly shorter.
The owners of the farm had opened it up to the public for the annual gleaning, the gathering of crops that had been left behind in the fields after the harvest. To their amazement, many times more people took them up on their offer of free potatoes, carrots and leeks than they'd expected. According to the story, 40,000 people descended on the farm, apparently illustrating a nation on the brink of famine.
That perception is predicated on the fact that this particular farm had never before experienced the post-apocalyptic scene described in the article. There's no reason it should have, though, since this was the first time its owners had opened the gleaning up to the public. If they'd done so a couple years ago, when the economy was booming, they would have been stampeded all the same.
What the story really tells us is that there's a segment of our society that can't stand to miss out on anything they don't have to pay for. When they refer to America as the Land of the Free, they interpret it as in "free continental breakfast." You're familiar with these people if you ever attend major league baseball games, because they're the ones who only go when bobbleheads are being given away, and then attack each other like piranhas when the mascots throw tee-shirts into the stands.
An insatiable hankering for freebies does not directly correlate with need, as was illustrated by Gore 2000 campaign mascot Winifred Skinner, who had supposedly been forced to pick aluminum cans out of her neighbors' trash in order to buy medicine. It turned out that Skinner owned a Winnebago, a poodle, and a United Auto Workers' pension. She only rummaged through her neighbors' garbage because she wanted to, not because she had to in order to survive.
The same is surely true of most of the Colorado vegetable pickers, whom the AP would have us believe are barely sustaining a hand-to-mouth existence. The story quotes one of the pickers explaining, "Everybody is so depressed about the economy." One of the farm owners agrees, saying, "People obviously need food."
Of course needy people exist, but that's why the farm had been inviting church groups to help glean the crops for years. A church is capable of distributing large quantities of vegetables through food banks and soup kitchens, where enough different kinds of food are available to produce entire meals, instead of simply burying the needy under a mountain of spuds.
If you were desperate to feed yourself and your family, filling enormous bags with potatoes, carrots and leeks would not be the most efficient way to go about it. However much of those things you managed to consume before they spoiled might not even be worth the amount of gas you'd burn while driving to the farm and back. The only way it really makes sense to put the time and effort into it is if you are going to give or sell most of the food to others.
To assume that the people hauling away the huge sacks of produce are doing so for their own consumption is to perceive them as living at a Dickensian level of poverty. One imagines them subsisting for weeks on baked carrots, carrot soup, carrot pie, carrot pudding, and any other revolting thing you can think of to do with the things.
We know, of course, that this wouldn't be necessary, with all the assistance that's available to the poor in this country, both from private charities and from government. By omitting that factor, the story depicts America as a place where the average citizen's life is hanging by a thread. It's as if he's the protagonist in a sequel to D.O.A., who must consume a bushel of leeks within 24 hours, or else succumb to luminous poisoning.
The focus of this story, if it wouldn't have strayed too far outside the media template, should have been the generosity of the successful capitalists who own the farm. That may not be as interesting, or as pleasing to the editors, as a depiction of life in America as a chaotic nightmare, but at least it would have had the advantage of being true.-- Daniel Clark is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.
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