By Sam Burnham, Curator
I've let this idea sit for a bit. I didn't want to respond while I was angry or upset and therefore just vent out my frustrations. But I've had some time to gather my thoughts and do some research as well as read Jon Jackson's thoughtful response to the article in question.
I'm troubled by a recent editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Bill Torpy. Bill seems to be a bit upset by the recent passing of a bill that would bring in internet service providers to build the infrastructure for broadband internet in rural Georgia. He seems equally frustrated by the creation of the Georgia House of Representatives Rural Development Council, a group of legislators teaming up to research the economic struggles of rural Georgia and find ideas on how to grow the economies of these places.
What bothers me most is that he seems content to let these areas just die and dry up. He addresses the economic despair of the area, going as far as to point out the tax dollars collected and spent in rural areas vs metro areas. His point is valid in writing but he neither compensates for the rural areas holding a monopoly on the state's top industry nor the differences in the costs of living in the rural vs the metro. In Atlanta a parking place can cost more for a worker per year than an acre of Irwin county would cost that same worker to own outright. Basically, 200 square feet of concrete parking garage in Atlanta for 8-10 hours a day for a year costs as much or more than 43,560 square feet of land that can accommodate a home, a garden, livestock, a commercial building, pick something. The acre of land might include dirt, trees, grass, birds, maybe some concrete and rebar but not typically.
The biggest difference I see between these two editorials - Jon's and Bill's - is that Bill is content to let the state continue to swirl as Atlanta consumes the state economy like a whirlpool or a black hole. Jon's is so wise and well thought out. He is seeking a much more unifying effort.
Jon's direction is the one I want to take here. Jon is bringing people onto his farm - veterans and others suffering from PTSD and other trauma-induced afflictions and teaching them how to farm - not just how to plant some seeds but how to run a farm operation. James Oglethorpe founded Georgia in 1732 to create a place where the head of each household farmed his own land - no slaves, no plantations, no large operations. Family farms in which each person made a living for themselves and provided goods and services for purchase or barter in their communities and elsewhere. Jon calls his model the Georgia Model and I'd say history supports that label.
But we find ourselves in 2018. While rural areas are watching their populations and economies shrink, Atlantans like Billy Torpy are saying "good riddance." He wants to try to divide the state with his "tweener" category but while places like Rome, Cartersville, Ringgold, and Carrollton might be doing well, we are seeing this withering of our state even in places like Macon and Augusta. It's not just Lumpkin that is shrinking while Torpy fiddles. It is a significant part of our state.
This Georgia model, when applied to agriculture and commerce, could revive many of these small communities. If we build a based of small communities we could make our own world-class metropolis stronger as the entire state grows economically.
Strong local agriculture can create a supply for restaurants and farmer's markets in our small towns, but also in Atlanta. Strong arts in our small towns could create a network of culture and entertainment throughout the state in which our artists can thrive. Local businesses could enhance Atlanta's economy by adding customers and sources for goods and services throughout our state. The airport in Atlanta can bring the entire world to the doorsteps of these small towns and make other doorsteps available to them as well. Having the entire state linked to broadband internet enables Atlanta businesses to employ telecommuters throughout the state, increasing their reach while putting less strain on the transit infrastructure. Telemedicine can bring world-class medical options to the smallest of our towns. The healthier economies strengthen the medical and educational systems of our rural areas. All of these relieve Atlanta's "burden" and makes the big city economy and culture even stronger. This is a win-win.
Broadband internet is but a start. I'm not saying that it fixes everything or even anything. More will have to be done. But none of it is possible without it. There are stigmas that must be overcome. These areas will need to be protected from huge companies and agribusinesses that will thwart the economy for their own gain. But this is a huge opportunity for Georgia. We can be an example to the rest of our region - for South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi - to strengthen their rural economies and therefore our region and, in turn, our state.
It's teamwork. It's a better model. It's a wiser way to run our state. It will benefit us all. Instead of "Atlanta's thankless burden" let's start talking about Georgia's wisest investment.
By Sam Burnham, Curator
One of the late evening conversations during the Cracker weekend was about the Agrarian Ideals that we hold dear. Of particular note is the economic theory that we wish to espouse. Capitalism is, by far, the best economic system ever conceived in the minds of mankind. The freedom and incentives built into the system make it efficient, competitive, and, most importantly, free.
But along with the liberty of capitalism comes a responsibility. While economic markets should not be weighed down with restrictive government regulations, it should still be regulated. But instead of the laws of the land, this economic system should be governed by things far more solemn and forbearing. It is this very regulation that we are missing in our society today. Our inability to implement this one principle is what is causing unemployment, wage stagnation, probably every economic shortfall in this nation today.The only way that free systems can survive is if we maintain them with the principles that must govern them. A system designed to work for good people must be maintained by good people.
These principles are driven by the intrinsic value of a human being. This value is not something that can be measured in dollars, rubles, or yen. In fact, if you reduce this value down to a measurable amount of money, you have just destroyed the value entirely. Money is always going to be one of the restrictions that business leaders face when operating. And a budget will always have limits on how much a proprietor can afford to expend in salaries and benefits. But if we address the value of a person in terms of currency alone, we are missing the point.
Mechanization and automation are both replacing people in commerce, industry, and agriculture. Banks use automated tellers, stores have self-checkout, factories employ robots, all in the name of lower costs, lower prices, higher profits. But what are the costs? Just the other day I saw a post on Twitter where someone was trying to communicate with their online bank - one of those new things with no branches, just websites. He wasn't getting much service. I had been in my local bank earlier that same day. Upon entering, two tellers greeted me by my first name, then they both greeted my coworker by his first name. They each helped one of us and in less time than it took for that other guy to send a tweet, we had both completed transactions and were on our way back out the front door. It's a human touch, a personal connection. That face-to-face transaction is backed by an interaction in a community, not a glint in a microprocessor.
When we cut this human interaction out, no matter how menial we think the task to be, we are taking from someone a chance to provide for themselves. We are taking from ourselves a chance to interact with another person. In doing this we take a bit of the humanity out of our society. We continue the pattern of dehumanizing each other and in doing so, we dehumanize ourselves. In that act of turning "Amy" at the bank into a button on a touchscreen we have made our community a little less valuable. Yes, the bank may have more money because they pay one less person. We may even benefit because the bank can afford to give us a higher yield on an account. But a member of our community lost her job to a machine. There may not be another job for her because of all the other machines coming on line. Then what? What happens once a machine can do our job?
A story I heard on NPR this past week was reporting on such technological advances and how these machines will free people up to do "more detailed" or "more important" tasks. But unless we eventually determine what these tasks are and how people learn to do them, all the advancements do is continuously replace people with machines. Another unintended consequence is that we devalue the art of manual labor. There are people who have an innate ability, even the desire, to work with their hands. These are people who don't withdraw from sweat and grime that come from physically handling their work. They don't take issue with being physically tired after an honest day's work. Who are we to determine that these tasks are better off done by machines? We have developed the erroneous, perhaps dangerous, assumption that everyone wants, even needs, to attend college and work in an office, that this is the way to wealth and enlightenment. That's not fair to a group of people who aren't wired that way, people we devalue and demean by suggesting their proclivity toward manual labor makes them somehow less of a human.
It is time for us to change. It is time to stop mechanizing or automating every job out there. It is time to return to the idea that the human factor has worth, that the bottom line is not the only value that business has to budget into the cost of operation. We have to once again understand that our human resources are exactly that - human. Until we begin treating people as people, rather than as expenditures, we will continue to live in a dangerous world where people feel like and therefore treat others as liabilities rather than assets,
By Sam Burnham, Curator
"In 1850, this redneck's great-great-great grandparents bought this farm..."
That's not my line. It's the line I was told to open this story with by said redneck who still retains possession of the farm to this day. He hatched an idea a few months back. By most measures of our times it was an idea that was ill-advised at best. Gather a few folks that only know each other via Twitter, add some adult beverages, music, an ammo box full of cigars, and, of course, firearms.
What could possibly go wrong?
Let's talk about part of the title. If you are new to the term "Cracker" you might be worried that we are throwing around a racial slur but that isn't the case. In Southern History, the Crackers were the settlers who moved in and settled the land, took up agriculture, especially cattle farming, and learned the ways the land worked and how to make a living off of it. The Crackers were typically found in Georgia and Florida. That's what we mean by Cracker.
So a group of men descended from those settlers gathered in Lowndes County at the beautiful Franks Creek Farm, not too far from Snake Nation, to shoot the bull, some quail, and maybe some whiskey.
Our adventure begins on a Friday afternoon as we all begin arriving at the farm. I was dilly dallying in Turner County (as is my habit when I'm near Turner County) when I received a message that Matt, our host, was about to go and retrieve dinner. Keith messaged that he was near Lakeland. I realized it was time to get back on the paved road. So at Inaha I got on I-75 and headed south at a much faster pace. I arrived at the farm and was greeted by a man I've known for some time now, but had never met in person.
Let me say this. Matt Lawrence is a master of hospitality. And should he decide to open such adventures for paying customers, you need to become a patron. I cannot imagine a better host for such an event. We sat in rockers and camp chairs on the screened back porch of the ca. 1890s farmhouse and drank beverages and enjoyed cigars from the ammo can. We had an appetizer of freshly fried pork skins with pepper jelly from Woodstack BBQ Tavern in Valdosta.
After everyone had arrived we moved to the dining room where we partook of more deliciousness from Woodstack - brisket, ribs, macaroni and cheese, greens, beans, and a desert of banana pudding. Matt had made homemade cornbread and had local cane syrup to go with it. After dinner we sipped on Madeira and discussed how this wine came to America.
We moved back to the back porch and began to discuss numerous topics - some of which will be revisited in future posts. We had a Georgia playlist for our evening soundtrack which made music and musicians one of the topics of discussion. There were more cigars, more beverages, more stories. The conversation was so good we were shocked when Matt pointed out it was 1 am. We turned in for the night.
The dogs are half the fun of quail hunting. Matt carried three along with us Mollie has a strong retriever instinct, so she came along just in case we needed to find a lost bird. Judge did most of the work with Jury coming in when Judge needed to take a breather. Matt used his whistle to signal the dog and we'd watch as he ran, the bell on his collar clanging so we never lost his direction, looking for a scent. When he'd find a covey of birds he would stop, body stiff and pointing at the birds. That was our cue to be ready to shoot. Matt would give the command and the dog would lunge forward, causing the quail to take flight. Then there would be gunfire...unless the quail flew back up in my face and toward my hunting buddies...or I pulled the trigger only to realize I still had the safety on...or the quail used the dog as a human...er...canine shield. Sometimes a bird would fall and sometimes they would get away. You might find them again for another shot or you might never see them again. That's all part of it.
Between our turns we'd sit back at the wagon and re hydrate. We'd watch the other pair of shooters and laugh as the two dogs with us would bark after each shot. They were all so eager to be the one that made pursuit after a shot. But only one dog at a time got to do that.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire