Problem Solvers

By Mary Berry

After something like forty years of going to farm meetings I think I can speak with some authority about the quality the meetings I attend. The first meetings I remember attending were with my father and grandfather. Why they took a determined to be bored teenager with them I don’t know but it is a credit to them that they did. I managed to get some education in spite of myself. I am still attending a lot of meetings and still occasionally bored. But, in the last few years I have felt a change in the meetings I have attended and have been unable to articulate what that change is. I think I have figured it out.

It was my pleasure to attend The Slow Meat Symposium June 20to the 22nd in Denver. The meeting was small, about 100 people. There were processers, farmers, ranchers, etc. The meeting was good from start to finish. I could write a lot about the details of what was discussed and will at some point but what I want to talk about now is this, the meeting was good because the people who came to the meeting were problem solvers. Daddy said to me recently that he is tired of people talking about saving places without particular places in mind. This group had places on their minds and histories of places on their minds. And there my friends, is the most hopeful thought I have had in a long time. We have a living agrarian history if you will. Many times over the years as an attender of meetings and as a convener of meetings I have wondered what makes a meeting worthwhile. There are many answers to that question but the one that rings the truest for me now is getting experienced, knowledgeable people together with younger people who are taking up farming or processing or just trying to live sanely. This is culture, the old passing down knowledge to the young. What could be better for a young person taking up farming than to hear Will Harris of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, GA talk about his transition from conventional agriculture to farming with nature? Dan Rosenthal, owner of Trattoria No10, and nine other restaurants in Chicago is buying hormone and antibiotic free meat for his restaurants. Farmers need to know that Dan is out there and what he is looking for. Mike Lorentz CEO of LORENTZ ETC. INC. is a generational meat cutter in Cannon Falls, MN. He knows the processing business from his father and from his own experience taking over the company and making it work. These three men are representative of the intelligence and generosity gathered for that meeting. (I say generosity not just for the time given but for their willingness to share mistakes!)

I grew up surrounded by people who made it their business to teach me what I needed to know to farm, to keep house, to raise children, to be a community member, etc. Sometimes I didn’t appreciate it and sometimes I didn’t even know it was happening. Because we have lost so much of our rural culture we must be more intentional about our responsibilities to those coming after us. I congratulate and thank Slow Meat for being a part of that good work.

This poem of Daddy’s says beautifully what I am talking about.

The Record

My old friend tells us how the country changed:
where the grist mill was on Cane Run,
now gone; where the peach orchard was,
gone too; where the Springport Road was gone
beneath returning trees; how the creek ran three weeks
after a good rain, long ago, no more;
How when these hillsides first were plowed, the soil
Was black and deep, no stones, and that was long ago;
Where the wild turkeys roosted in the old days.
“You’d have to know this country mighty well
before I could tell you where.”

And my young friend says: “Have him speak this
into a recorder. It is precious, It should be saved.”
I know the panic of that wish to save
the vital knowledge of the old times, handed down,
for it is rising off the earth, fraying away
in the wind and the coming day.
As the machines come and the people go
the old names rise, chattering, and depart.

But knowledge of my own going into old time
tells me no. Because it must be saved,
do not tell it to a machine to save it.
That old man speaking you have heard
since your boyhood, since his prime, his voice
speaking out of lives long dead, their minds
speaking in his own, by winter fires, in fields and woods,
in barns while rain beat on the roofs
and wind shook the girders. Stay and listen
until he dies or you die, for death
is in this, and grief is in it. Live here
as one who knows these things, Stay, if you live;
listen and answer, Listen to the next one
like him, if there is to be one. Be
the next one like him, if you must.
Stay and wait. Tell your children. Tell them
to tell their children. As you depart
toward the coming light, turn back
and speak, as the creek steps downward
over the rocks, saying the same changing thing
in the same place as it goes.

When the record is made, the unchanging
word carried to a safe place
in a time not here, the assemblage
of minds dead and living, the loved lineage
dispersed, silent, turned away, the dead
dead at last, it will be too late.