News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A clean, well-lit barn

Rainy Monday.  It was a good day to be in a barn.  The weather outside was wet, muddy, chilly, and just nasty.  And I failed in the meager task I was assigned at the Farm Forum of Rep. Herseth Sandlin and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.  I was supposed to have a small propane heater warming the two speakers as they sat on a big flatbed trailer for a stage.  The heater was working fine until it emptied one cylinder.  When  I replaced the cylinder with  a full one, it would not start again. 

Then I was one of the people attending to a farmers' market that some event sponsors wanted in order
to show off local produce and pumpkins and gourds.  It was across a roadway from the big implement barn where the people gathered.  By the time the meeting started, the rain had created a moat between the two buildings, and when people left the meeting, they wanted only to get in out of the cold and wet and get into their warm cars.  A few people did stop by, however.

But that wasn't the real disaster.  After all the people left, we had a couple hundred folding chairs to load up and put in the cargo area of a small moving van to take them back to the rental place.  My wife, Virginia (who is in the photo above in the light-colored coat standing to the right of the podium) put some poles and buntings in the ban and was stepping down from it on a tailgate step.  The step was wet and slick and her feet went out from under her and she came crashing down on her left arm.  She said immediately, "I broke my arm."

I  got the car into the barn, loaded her into the passenger seat while she tightly held her arm in her lap, and got to the emergency room within 20 minutes.  She was right  She broke her arm.  After about five hours which included some surgery, she had two steel pins in it and a fairly good prognosis.

The Farm Forum, which one might term a township barn meeting, took an unimaginable amount of organization.  In part, this is because some segments of agriculture are experiencing some tough economic times in addition to disastrous weather.  Sec. Vilsack is in much demand from rural communities who have some problems to confront and solve.  As his appearance in Brown County is the only one he is  able to schedule in South Dakota,  event organizers had to notify constituents throughout the state so that people with various concerns would be represented and heard.

Leaders from various farm organizations and farm-related groups expressed some concern that the forum could turn into something akin to the town hall and tea-bagger demonstrations of August, and that people with serious and legitimate questions and concerns would be shoved aside by those whose only purpose would be to disrupt and harass. Notifying the people who need to present and assuring them they would be heard and respected was a prodigious task.  It got done. 

Everybody in attendance had earnest reasons for being there and had important questions to ask and concerns to pose.  Well,  almost everybody.  As the meeting broke up, a group of women who were all dressed the same slogged through the mud to their car.  Another person in the Farm Market shed said those are the people who protested Tom Daschle's appearance at the health forum in Aberdeen.  I said they did not say anything while I was in the meeting.  Did they protest something?  No, said a farmer who was buying carrots and onions and potatoes for a beef roast he said was in the oven.  I think they sensed that this meeting was all business and the crowd would not tolerate any nonsense, he said.

The questions ranged from whether counties in the state would qualify for disaster assistance and what the clean energy bill might portend for farmers in the state.  Disaster assistance seems on its way.   Work is being done to help out pork producers who are besieged by very high costs and very low prices.  There is a push to move toward cellulosic ethanol and a higher ratio of ethanol in gasoline to further diminish dependency on foreign crude.  And if the U.S. does not adopt clean energy legislation, it will give farmers a disadvantage in the international marketplace.

The information was not the kind of stuff you read on blogs or hear on cable news.  The question period lasted almost two hours.  It involved an earnest exchange of perspectives and information.  It was politics in the good sense.

I would not go so far as to say it was worth  a broken arm, but it was an honorable occasion in which to be injured in the line of duty.

That's more than I can say for most of the events I've witnessed in the past two months.  Sanity in the rain restores some confidence in the political system.

It's time to go administer some pain medication.  For the arm.  Not the political system. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States