Good Times, Bad Times

July 29, 2012

One day last week I met a farmer friend by chance and made the mistake of asking her “How’s it going?” Now in the tradition of the Thornapple blog, readers will have come to expect that I will now set out on an obscure tangent. For example, I might note that while we here in the United States tend to ask, “How are you doing?” or “How’s it going?”, other native speakers of the English language (to wit, the Australians) might ask “How are you going?” Much of the “humor” that is generated by such tangents is derived solely from their tendency to exhibit an extremely complex grammar (to wit, the sentences are long). The result: a sort of self-mocking tone that some readers may find amusing. If you don’t find this kind of verbal gymnastic at least mildly amusing, I can’t imagine why you would post statements like ”fantastic issues altogether, you simply received brand new a new reader. What may you suggest in regards to your publish that …” in my comment box. Except that I have come to understand that people post such comments to blogs in an exceedingly random and robotic fashion, presumably intended only to boost the “hits” rating of one’s own website. So, in fact, I can imagine why someone would post such a comment. All of which, in sum, satisfies this week’s requirement for tangential web-spinning. I hope everyone is sufficiently amused so that I can get back to what ensued upon my inquiry to a farmer friend, “How’s it going?”

The trouble with asking a farmer friend “How’s it going?” is that she is very likely to tell you how, in fact, it is going. And this summer, the grammar of “it” vs. “you” is not so significant, at least when your conversational partner is a farmer. Because “it” is not going at all well for many farmers, which is to say that “they” are neither going nor doing as they might have hoped. Here I perhaps state the obvious for those readers who are not oblivious to the fact that the Obama administration has designated an ever lengthening line of agricultural counties as disaster areas. In short, it’s been hot and dry. This coming after a spring that got warm too early, followed by the inevitable late frost, which destroyed a fairly large percentage of the Michigan fruit crop. The summer dry spell has come at a time most inopportune for pollination of the corn crop. This means reduced yields, and this in turn means that anyone who feeds corn to animals is already starting to have trouble locating enough to feed, and when they do find it, it’s dear. And of course it’s not just corn, because if your pasture is as brown as the grass on the Michigan State University campus you are, here at a time when your sheep should be grazing placidly, scrambling to find something for them to eat. And when you do find a bale of hay, it’s dear.

There are always ironies, however. After having pretty much given up on enjoying anything but underdeveloped and generally tasteless corn on the cob this summer, I had some on Thursday night that was much better than passable. It came from Ohio, not that far from here. I was being treated by some friends from Toledo and was too polite to ask them what they had to pay for it. Our conversation indicated to me that “it” is not going so badly in their parts, but since these friends were not farmers they may have misunderstood my question (to wit, “How’s it going”) as a mere formality. And there’s no particular reason for thinking that they really had the inside poop on how “it” was going in Ohio, in any case. But here’s the fairly obvious point for this week: When “it” is not going well for some farmers, there are probably other farmers, and perhaps not so far away, for whom “it” is going phenomenally well. Not that farmers of any persuasion are inclined to gloat over their good fortune when “it” goes badly for their neighbors.

It was the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who first pondered the meaning of “a good time” (or as Jean-Jacques might have said “Les Bon Temps”). I wonder what he would say about the summer of 2012?

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University


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