a view into the sordid life i lead

Friday, August 10, 2007

Stirring up shit

If you've not figured it out yet, I reside in Fairfield, Iowa. This is home to some seriously whacked out nutjobs and some very interesting people, who can't really be categorized in any way. The combination of new-age weirdness, rural agribusiness, conservative Iowa, religious fundamentalism and a group of international students who have no idea what they signed up for makes for an amazingly wonderful mix.
Of all the places in Iowa I'd say Fairfield has the highest interestingness quotient per capita. Ok, maybe second to Iowa City, but I'd say it's going to be a really tough choice. And given the jock population in IC and the suburban sprawl that's now called Coralville, I suspect Fairfield has edged IC out quite well.
Anyway, I've come to realize that a fundamental part of interestingness is a healthy dose of controversy. Fairfield has a rich history of controversy, and I'll get to that history at some point. I just fear that if I head down that path it's going to be another night of no sleep, and pure rant, which I get to do over chai on a regular basis anyway (but just to toss this one out there: crowns and beige suits?! really?! is this not the beginning of the end of all rational behavior?!!!)

The point of controversy right now is the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) which is being planned to go in about 8 miles outside town. A CAFO is a high-capacity livestock operation, designed to maximize yield by confining as many animals (in the current case hogs) in as efficient a way as possible. Wikipedia addresses the issue very well, so I'm not going to talk about the science or commerce aspect to it at all. The real point of the controversy in this town I think relates to the just-under-the-surface divisiveness between the meditating and conservative residents.
Now I should make clear that the line that this division is based on has greyed over the 18 years I have been resident in this town. I recall my first introduction to the divisiveness being a t-shirt in Casey's (now Logli's) donned by a 6' something, big-ass trucker dude which had the slogan "We don't need any more fucking roos" on the front and " .. don't meditate castrate." on the back. I wanted that t-shirt on sight, but felt that any attempts to engage the bear of a guy wearing said shirt would result in immediate bodily harm. Just a feeling.
Anyway, the divisiveness, from my humble standing in Planet Fairfield, has lessened over the years to the point where people are roo-townies or townie-roos.
But there is still a sentiment amongst at least some of the morons out there that there's a hard line in the sand that divides us and them.
So, getting back on the point - the dividing issue in this particular case which irks the fuck out of me is the contention by some of the farming community in this town (and around it) that their profession entitles them to a higher position in Iowa. Essentially if you're a farmer you're more of a resident than if you're not. That being a "family farm" is more important than, say, being a building contractor.
Lest anyone get the idea that I'm not an equal opportunity hater, I'll just state for the record that anyone who thinks they've got more of a stake in the outcome because they've got the goal of saving the earth through eating organic food and meditating is just as fucked. But I'll address that issue with my "History of Fairfield through the eyes of an immigrant" rant later on.
The CAFO issue has brought up the term "family farm" a few times - I've been present at the Vedic City hearing (which I'll eventually write about), and the hearing on Thursday 8/9 relating to the latest CAFO which is planning to get put in 8 miles outside town - and I have no idea what the hell this term means to the guys who use it. It's entirely disingenuous. In fact I'd equate it in techie terms to doing work as a private contractor for Microsoft or Oracle and saying that you're not really part of the system because you're independent and not employed by them. Family Farms my ass: the setup, operation, product purchase and product distribution are all directly for the benefit of the large corporate interest (i.e., the Cargills of the world).
This is not only true of CAFOs but also much of agriculture in Iowa today.
During the hearing on 8/9 at the Fairfield Courthouse, the daughter of the family who is planning on putting in the CAFO stated that 98% of farms in Iowa are family owned. This is just plain wrong. Farming is going through an incredible crisis. The *real* act of farming - growing products to feed people and to actually do so in a sustainable manner - is so limited in Iowa that it's laughable when I hear these allusions to the values of "family farming". It's a business just like any other.
All that said I have no idea, first-hand, how a hog operation really works and just how much of an issue this is. So I'm going to try to find out by visiting some of these places. Stay tuned :-)


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