Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Keeping 'Em Down on the Farm

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Keeping 'Em Down on the Farm

Article excerpt

IT is 9 o'clock on a Thursday morning. On a DC-10 bound from Boston to Chicago, a businessman is talking on the Airfone, checking with his office back home. "I'm somewhere over the Midwest," he explains, in the slightly dismissive tones of an Easterner who cannot quite take this part of the country seriously.

In this case, "somewhere over the Midwest" is northern Indiana. Thirty thousand feet below, a striking Mondrian-style grid of square and rectangular fields is shaded in greens and browns. Soon the plane will land at O'Hare. For the businessman and many other passengers hurrying into the city, the beauty of this rural landscape will become only a fleeting memory.

Too bad. Because this time of year in particular, the Midwest is a place to drive through slowly, rather than simply fly over quickly. August is the season of plenty, of harvest and celebration. Corn stands tall and tasseled in the field. Soybeans carpet the black soil with a rich green cover. And all month, state fairs pay tribute to the bounty of the land and the value of rural life.

Here in Rockford, a city 90 miles northwest of Chicago, sponsors of a weekend "corn boil" add to the festivities by turning a grassy field into an open-air restaurant. For $3.50, visitors are served hot dogs, chips, dessert, beverages, and all the fresh-picked corn they can eat. Similarly, across the state line in Union Grove, Wis., a banner suspended across the main street announces a weekend "Corn and Brat{wurst} Fest," honoring both the area's agricultural base and its German heritage.

These fairs and celebrations mask, at least temporarily, the declining profits and vanishing farms that have become too common in the heartland. The Agriculture Department reports that farmers spent more to grow their crops in July but earned less for them. And a weekend visitor who remembers when farms dominated the landscape between O'Hare and Rockford can only look with dismay at the creeping exurban sprawl. Every year more cornfields are plowed under, buried forever beneath glass and steel office parks and treeless subdivisions. A sign at the edge of one field reads: "160 acres. …

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