Paying the Mowers

With the land deal made my mind (to no one’s surprise) is in hyperdrive. I think I have read half of the ATTRA site in the past several days, worn the pages of my Seeds Savers and Seeds of Change catalogues down to nubs, and have spent an inordinate amount of time drooling over equipment sites that no good can come from like Earth Tools, and others that actually make sense like Scythe Supply. It is that last sight that has tickled my muse this morning.

This 1890 scene was found on the Scythe Supply’s site-and is titled “Paying the Mowers”. What has me going is that here are a half dozen grown adults receiving their wages for mowing. Someone who knows their way around a scythe can reportedly mow about an acre a day. Now imagine paying in today’s wages about $100+ to have each acre of your pasture/orchard/lawn mown. It would be ridiculous, but considering that was the way of things barely 100 years ago it bears thought. With this in mind it is not hard at all to see why rural America is dead or dying-population densities lower than when the Native Americans had the run of the land and the rural youth in full flight to more favorable climes. This flight is redefining our country and forcing the vast majority of our food to be grown by drivers instead of farmers.

I realize I am waxing nostalgic here and glossing over an immense amount of things like cholera, social security, and botox, but there was a time when this country paid just wages for things that mattered-like putting up the winter’s hay for the dairy cow-rather than KitchenAid mixers or LCD screens. As Polan and others have made clear to larger society, we currently pay less, as a percentage, for our food than any other culture in history. So not surprisingly we treat that food as a commodity valued by cost alone with hardly any consideration to quality. As a society we will spend weeks agonizing over which digital camera to purchase, but spend little to no time reading the ingredient list of the cereal we feed our children and caring not at all about the farmer that grew the grain, or the workers that packaged it.

This past year I have tasted a sweet new fruit-that of receiving part of my wages from growing food or crafting items (rain barrels) with my own hands. Given that I charge just prices (about 3x the grocery store) for my produce and products, my customers would not be purchasing it if they did not value it, and what it stands for, more. I take great pride in having a neighbor choose my produce to serve in their restaurant or to feed to their family.

Our rural economy was once based on neighbors providing products and services to each other. That interconnectedness bred community and a level of dependence. You paid just prices to the smithy or mill-if they folded who would repair your wagon or allow you to make bread? Why should today be any different? Our family will gladly pay more for local business to keep that business local-be it a bakery, repair shop, hardware store, or famer’s market. We have the power of the purse to make our community economies what we value. Given that statement there is palpable irony in the fact that the closest vendor listed in first paragraph is over 400 miles away.

The facts are that the 21st century community will be different than the 19th. Scythe Supply, Seed Savers and others are a critical component to building the future that I desire, and I will support them. But where the local economy still exists I turn to it- my garlic “seed” was purchased locally, we have sought out local coffee roasters, brewers, and cheesemakers, and Wisconsin has some of the finest farmers markets in the Midwest.

I guess I am proposing that we think hard about which mowers we are paying in our lives, and thereby ensure that those mowers will be there come the spring cutting time.

Be the Change.

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