Sam Burnham, Curator
In the interest of full disclosure we own a flex fuel vehicle. If there is a convenient opportunity, I’ll buy the corn infused mixture atvthe strangely lower price. But I never go out of my way to do so. It’s more of an occasional novelty than it is a realistic option for regular use.
Then I came across a tweet by Stefan Turkheimer. He’s on Washington and was commenting on a promoted tweet that was apparently being targeted to people around the EPA building there.
This looks good on the surface. Protecting farmers, strengthening rural economies, swift action by the man who has inspired so many in “flyover country.”
But is that really what is happening? I want it to be what’s happening but I tend to be a skeptical about politics, especially when it promises to benefit rural America. This is no different.
For starters, the ethanol in that fuel isn’t made from pecans. Or onions. Or peanuts. Or hogs. Or cattle. In fact, it’s competing for market with food for hogs and cattle. Basically it does protect some large producers of corn or grain. It’s also a good deal for the energy companies who are making the fuel. The family owned farms and the small towns aren’t any better off than they were.
Second, this ad is talking E15. That’s a mixture that’s 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. It’s terrible fir small engines like lawnmowers and boats. It’s also not great for your average gas burning automobiles. A gasoline engine just isn’t made to run on that fuel mixture. Sure, our flex fuel vehicle can handle it just fine but our other cars can’t.
What will really help stimulate rural economies?
1) Consumers committed to products and services really provided in those economies.
2) Removing old and preventing new trade barriers that hinder farmers and small businesses from finding customers both locally and abroad.
3) Cutting regulations that large corporate banks can afford to survive but that place undue burden on locally owned banks and credit unions.
4) Policies that allow smaller farms to find an affordable workforce for labor intensive produce.
5) People in big cities discarding the stereotypes of rural areas as worthless, underdeveloped spaces populated by ignorant people and in turn supporting policies that maintain the resources rural economies need in order to thrive.
6) Tax policies that don’t place undue burden on small farms or prevent one generation of landowners from keeping those farms operating in future generations
That’s a start anyway.
Rest assured that energy companies and factory farms teaming up to turn food for people and livestock into gasoline is not going to provide a stronger economy for small towns and family farms in The South. Only conscious consumers, an affordable workforce, limted government, and a respect for private property rights can do that.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Over on our Instagram and Facebook pages, I posted a story with a James Oglethorpe Quote. Oglethorpe was, of course, the founder of the colony of Georgia having secured a charter from the king, sailing with a group of settler to present day Savannah, establishing friendly ties with the native Yamacraw, and fighting the Spanish for the security of the colony.
Since the stories on social media only consist of a picture, a quote, and a hashtag, I thought I should expand on the quote just a bit.
"If we allow slaves, we act against the very principles by which we associated together, which was to relieve the distressed." - James Oglethorpe
Oglethorpe had a plan for Georgia before he ever sought out the charter. He wanted a land based on hope and Christian charity. The idea that Georgia was a prison colony is erroneous. The original settlers were not criminals by our modern interpretation. The original settlers were indebted in Britain and came to Georgia for a chance at a new life. This meant the first Georgians were seeking an escape from bondage. Therefore it was essential to Oglethorpe that the new colony did not use an even more brutal form of bondage in order to free people from their debts.
The new colony was to be based in the idea of personal enterprise. No large plantations would be allowed. Businesses would be small family operations. Lawyers were also prohibited. Georgia stood in juxtaposition to its neighbor, South Carolina, which was a haven of big plantations and big money. That difference would eventually be the downfall of Georgia's original plan as greed and competition overrode the founding principles and led to slavery in the colony.
When we talk about the small things - small towns, small businesses, small family farms, we aren't just enjoying an abstract daydream. We are discussing the very principles that our state was founded on. While Columbia, Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, and New Orleans may run the Deep South, it is still dependent on places like Due West, Talking Rock, Smut Eye, Iuka, and Lafitte. Our celebration of the small things is an attempt to draw attention back to the basic, the intended, the original.
Sam Burnham, Curator
You've probably seen the Deportation Bus by now. While you may not have seen it in person you've likely seen a Michael Williams ad or a news story about the school bus turned campaign slogan that is making the round in the Peach State. The gray and white bus is labeled "Follow Me To Mexico" and "Warning: Murderers, Rapists, Kidnappers, Child Molestors (sic), and Other Criminals on Board." It is the metaphor that the gubernatorial candidate has hatched to represent his take on illegal immigration.
And I get it. It is proven that there is some criminal activity among the illegal population in the state. There is some gang activity. There have been murders and rapes. There have been DUIs that led to serious injuries and deaths. And people are not being unreasonable to believe that a total disregard for immigration law hints at lawlessness. We should enforce our laws strictly and consistently. We should have zero tolerance for serious crimes and property damage from illegal aliens. I'll not dispute that for one minute.
But the Deportation Bus is not the only bus in this conversation. There are other buses involved. In the next month or so, in the fields of Crisp County, people will line up and begin cutting watermelons. They'll pass them from person to person until they arrive and a specially customized bus. The top is cropped off save what provides shade to the driver. the seats are removed to form a makeshift truck bed as high as the bottoms of the windows. They pile it slap full to the brim with watermelons and then it pulls off to the market while a newly returned and empty bus pulls up to take its place. And they relay the buses all day. It is not unusual to be following one, have one behind you and have several of them pass you in a row heading the other direction. That's a typical Cordele Rush Hour, except it lasts all day.
The trick is, the workers in the fields are most likely illegal aliens. Many of them have likely come to the area after the peach or onion harvests, or maybe even both. These aren't jobs that machines can do. But they are vital jobs to our state. Agriculture is our top industry. We are the Peach State. Georgia is, by law, the only place where Vidalia Onions can be grown. Crisp County is known as the Watermelon Capital of the World. It is more than a business, this is who we are as a state.
Let's be honest for a minute. These aren't "American jobs" being "stolen." You're not about to work all day picking watermelons in the South Georgia sunshine. I know I'm not. It's a labor intensive, sweaty, hot, low-paying job. No one is getting rich off the watermelons. Despite being the number one producer of watermelons, Crisp County is the poorest in the state. And if you see the grocery store prices on a water melon and then you see the labor and transport involved, you see what the problem is. If you want to pay $15 for a watermelon, then the farmers can pay the harvesters more. But you don't want to pay $15 for a watermelon any more than you want to spend all day picking watermelons in the hot Georgia sunshine. I know I don't.
Consider this. You're not going to find a bunch of murderous gangsters in the fields. They don't want to be out there either. They can make more money selling drugs, pimping prostitutes, robbing people, kidnapping for ransom, whatever gangsters do. A person who spends all day picking watermelons is going to go home, eat dinner, spend some time with their family, and go to bed. They don't have a lot of time for foolishness. They have to spend all day tomorrow filling old school buses with watermelons. These are typically honest, hardworking people who took a chance at a better life. And the may not even want to stay here forever. They understand the Economy of Place, they love their homes and want to go back. But by working in our fields they can earn a better life back there.
I'm a third generation American on one branch of the family. My great-grandparents fled the onset of communism in Eastern Europe in the latter days of World War I. They went through Ellis Island, completely legal and by the books. So I understand the desire to flee. But I also understand the need to have it done legally. What we don't have in place is a true and functional guest worker program where farmers can go through legal channels to hire crews to pick crops. Such a program would allow for background checks, medical screenings, or other safety measures that would ensure that the workers are the sort of people we want to come in. The who;e process could be above the table. Clean and legal labor for the farmers who need it. And workers could follow the seasonal work as the year progresses. That's really a win-win for everyone.
So let's save the deportation hyperbole for those who really do fit the descriptions on that bus. Let's find a way to allow some honest dads to take care of their families and probably help their hometown economy in the process. Let's be strict about our laws but let's pass wise laws to be strict about. Let's keep those watermelon buses rolling. It's getting to be summertime. And it is tough to beat a cool slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire