Umida solstitia atque hiemes orate serenas, agricolae.
Virgil, Georgics, I
This land, ‘tis said, is the Land of the Free,
where even those of modest means
dare their dreams.
It all began with Tisquantum and the three sisters
at Plymouth Rock. Did we learn the lesson?
Not that long ago, as nations go,
early colonists broke virgin soil
from New Hampshire to Georgia,
and the cornucopia of self-sufficiency
brimmed with fish, wheat, barley, oats,
rye, corn, tobacco, indigo and rice.
In southern states, where good farming land was
plentiful, only lack of labor
limited the size of plantations.
First indentured servants, then African slaves
provided the human capital owners needed,
and cotton crops made them rich.
Manifest destiny, it was said, both explained
and justified the movement of pioneers westward.
Okies and Arkies survived poverty and dust,
following a New Exodus
to a land of milk and honey,
happy enough for a meagre meal to knit
body and soul together.
California farms today,
employing many innovations,
cannot survive without diverted water
and migrant workers.
Even with technology and techniques,
America’s modern farms are hostage to politics
and policy, economics, and international trade.
Meanwhile, millions of children go to bed hungry —
not just in Africa, but in this Republic
which has become “great again.”
Not because we cannot farm, but because
we have forgotten how to be humane.
Brothers and Sisters, there is room at the table.