The big surprise occurred a few minutes into the meeting: US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack walked in. He was in Terry McCauliffe love-in mode. And here is what he told us: for the first time–2012– rural America lost population in real numbers–not as a percentage but in real numbers. It’s down to 16 percent of total population.
I’m sitting there thinking he’s going to say that number needs to go up so we have more people to love and steward the landscape. More people to care for earthworms. More people to grow food and fiber.
Are you ready for the shoe to drop? The epiphany? What could the US Secretary of Agriculture, at the highest strategic planning sessions of our land, be challenged by other leaders to change this figure, to get more people in rural America, to encourage farming and help more farms get started? What could be the driving reason to have more farmers? Why does he go to bed at night trying to figure out how to increase farmers? How does the President and other cabinet members view his role as the nation’s farming czar?
What could be the most important contribution that increasing farmers could offer to the nation? Better food? Better soil development? Better care for animals? Better care for plants?
Are you ready? Here’s his answer: although rural America only has 16 percent of the population, it gives 40 percent of the personnel to the military. Say what? You mean when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, the bottom line–you know all the cliches–the whole reason for increasing farms is to provide cannon fodder for American imperial might. He said rural kids grow up with a sense of wanting to give something back, and if we lose that value system, we’ll lose our military might.
It would be interesting to review a transcript or recording of all of Vilsack’s comments at the meeting but Salatin seems pretty confident in his characterization and genuinely disappointed.