What Have “WE” Learned?

The Dust Bowl era, and the suggestions which the coined term perpetuate, has become a forgotten blemish in the annals of American history. The effects of which began with the undertaken challenge to farm on a land with little forethought on the climate of the region and its compatibility with producing non-native plants. It goes back even further however, to the very ideal that America was founded on, to the notion of America as the new Eden, plush and plentiful in resources available for appropriation.

This ideal allowed for the acquisition of wealth in every meaning of the word, it is the foundation of our cultural identity and monetary economy. Since the depression and the failed agriculture of the Midwest, the government was determined to “re-build” to place into effect numerous federal programs as a safety net both for banks, corporations, farming industry, and lastly individuals. FDR’s alphabetic remedies, in an attempt to both stimulate the economy and safeguard it from another failure have had long lasting effects on the system in which our Capitalist economy operates today. And, arguably would not be standing on the “crutches” it is without his action.

However, what are those effects of  the depression and jointly the Dust Bowl today? Is it safe to say we recovered? That we managed to safeguard not only our economy but the success of the agricultural (nowadays) industry? Or have we but prolonged the future “Black Monday” and the future “Dust Bowl”?  Interesting questions, and ones which I do not have the knowledge or understanding to answer, and arguably I don’t know if anyone could. Hindsight is 20/20, but the present is never the past, and at what point is the past no longer a part of the present? Today government management, or “support” of the agricultural system helps to monitor the economic and environmental intricacies of American agriculture. Implementing, “farm price support” which provides subsidies to corporate farms which are already producing an oversupply of crops.

We don’t practice bio-regionalism in which we only grow and appropriate from resources that are native, and sustainable to particular regions and ecosystems. For example, if we were to practice bio-regionalism here in Alaska we would not eat fruit (besides naturally grown berries). This is a very abbreviated definition. In full practice, bio-regionalism would take into account watershed boundaries as well as soil and terrain boundaries.

Instead, what has occurred in the history of American agriculture, and capitalism is the anthropocentric view that in altering landscape and resources we can appropriate whatever we want. Using technology we can alter entire ecosystems to our liking, and essentially grow (non-native) crops on unsuitable land.  The solution to the “natural disaster” of the Dust Bowl, was water, and to this day it is what sustains agriculture which otherwise would be impossible. The effects of which are beginning to be revealed, but have yet to fully “flower”. The Ogallala Aquifer for example, was eventually tapped with advanced technology and has irrigated the Dust Bowl region, and much of the nations agricultural regions ever since. What happens when it runs out? California’s San Joaquin, Owens and San Fernando Valleys are yet other examples. Aquafornia

With water projects beginning on the same time-line as those that faced the Dust Bowl, FDR’s programs helped  construct California’s water supply infrastructure. An endeavor that was deeply buried in bribery and monopolization, and popularized in the Hollywood film, Chinatown in 1974. California is said to be “the most hydrologically altered landmass on the planet”.

So where does this leave us? According to the government we overcame the challenges that “confronted US” in American agriculture of the 1930’s, but have we really learned a lesson? Much of our economy relies on the corn, and wheat grown in the Midwest, and the fruit, vegetables and dairy  produced in California, but how long can we maintain this “Eden”? Today, we are faced with similar economic struggles as those of the 1920’s and 30’s. Only today, our producers are no longer family farmers but corporate entities, who have the money and political power to postpone and perpetuate practices that are neither sustainable to the environment nor possible in the long term.

As a suggestion to the problems that we continue to face, one need not look far. Organic, farming has become a popularized and sought out resource, bringing agriculture back to smaller companies, but in the shadow of larger corporation. Green has become the new Black, but prices are high and availability low, increasingly so in the face of growing economic burden. I encourage you to look at this piece regarding organic farming in Nevada, yet another region not well supported for agriculture. Patagonia’s FB note on Organic Farming in Nevada.

What has changed and what have we learned from the Dust Bowl Era? I hope this spawns some interesting topics of discussion.

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One Response to “What Have “WE” Learned?”

  1. jessicabarranco Says:

    Do we ever really learn from our mistakes? We decide to alter the environment to feed ourselves; ok, I can handle that. But when we’ve altered it so much, that it not only destroys ecosystems, but even threatens to harm our way of life, we forget the responsibility associated with these decisions in the first place. When we muddy our hands to control nature, we assume that individual aspects of the ecosystem can be broken apart, manipulated, and then placed back into nature (with a bandaid on it).

    What are we supposed to do when we are the ones putting our time, effort and money at stake? Maybe it isn’t such a good idea to take pieces of agriculture and mass produce what we want in order to make a buck, but isn’t it all part of the same game… If we buy into the game, we take our own risk. If people get caught between the cross-fire, well heck, that’s their problem!

    So what do we really have? We have a country filled with people that are deeply concerned with the environment. They are so deeply concerned, that they are willing to manipulate and tweak the natural system in order to create an abundance of the things that we really need: money, food, money, business, money… the list goes on. We also have a substantial amount of people that are willing to fight for the right to take these risks, and heck, in a free country, we might as well take advantage of our freedoms. Nobody is forcing us to partake in these practices, they are merely an option in a vast world. But at what point will this stop?

    Well, I’m not sure what I should have learned, but if I want a drink of water, and if I want a profit as high as a pile of rotting wheat, and if I want organic, by golly, I’m going to get it. It’s all hunky-dory if the government backs me, right?

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