Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chillicothe--more than sliced bread

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Something amazing has happened! On Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran an article that actually mentioned Missouri. Chillicothe, Missouri, the home of sliced bread. This mention is amazing on so many levels I hardly know where to start. Well, for one thing, it was about Missouri. And, for another thing, it never mentioned Mark Twain or Harry Truman. See, the Midwest never gets attention from what we might call the coastal media. When we do, it’s the snarky kind, like about cow tipping or guys named Bubba. So, hey, we’ll take any sliced-bread mention when we can get it. The article says that Catherine Stortz Ripley is working on a local-history book about Chillicothe and stumbled on the sliced bread story. Good work, Catherine! I hope she also stumbles on the 1986 farmers strike that brought attention to Chillicothe and changed the laws on foreclosure against farmers. I wrote about it a lot in 2011, the 25th anniversary of the event. Here’s a little from my interview with Roger Allison: “Roger explained that, in the 1980s, farmers were trying to understand how they could be working so hard and still going broke. Groups were springing up all over the Midwest, including right-wing groups that spread a message of violence and hate. With the economy breaking down, families losing their farms, bad weather and prices out of their control, farmers were looking for someone to blame. “The first target was the banking system. After all, everyone knew that bankers were tied to the commodity market and the commodity market sets prices. And prices were the problem. When prices for farm goods are low, a farmer’s income doesn’t pay for the cost of planting. That means the farmer can’t pay the loan he got for his business. That means he carries the debt to the next year. A few years of carrying debt means a debt that can’t be paid off. Foreclosure. “Targeting the banking system was dangerously close to targeting urban folks, especially urban Jews. There are, you see, very few Jewish people in the countryside. Indeed, neo-Nazi groups had sprung up in rural America, complete with uniforms, guns and marches. People were getting magazines from them, addressed “occupant,” and spreading a message of hate. Yet the Chillicothe farmers, although they might not have said it in just this way, were focused on a mission of peaceful resistance. There were even Jewish leaders from Kansas City that joined the fight.” It’s a pretty great story, and there’s a lot about it in my book, Farming Food and Politics in the Heartland, available from Amazon and as an e-book. Well, that’s enough for today. March 5, 2013.

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