Tuesday we got up and headed to Chisago Lakes HS. Jeff Lindeman, who's been teaching Agriculture there for decades, greeted us. He's the type of engaged teacher, that every student benefits from being around. Our first class,  of about 30, was well into the documentary when we arrived, and we decided to stop and talk about some of the issues brought up in the film. We talked about the impact of technology on rural America. How a tractor in the 1940s was relatively affordable, and could only cultivate, or weed, about 2 rows at a time. How today, that same tractor is more than 10 times as expensive, and can cultivate 24 rows at a time. Every small town in rural America used to have a creamery, a grocery store, a hardware store, a school, a salon, a police station, a grain elevator, a post office, a clothes store, a law office, a newspaper. As technology got more and more advanced, one person became capable of farming more acres of land, one person became capable of milking more cows, raising more hogs, more chickens. We've heard before about drone tractors, that no longer need people inside of them at all. And on this trip, we heard about dairies where cows are milked by robots, further removing the need for people in rural America. The result of this mechanization, this advancement is that many small towns in our rural communities have disappeared. It's a slow painful process. As people move out, at some point, there's not enough population to maintain the tax revenue for the schools, and then the school combines with two other schools, and the high school has a name like Milford, Batesville, Amaretto high school. Once the town loses the school, then few want to raise kids there, and the town really begins to disintegrate. The salon closes, the hardware store, the grocery store. The farmers that remain have to farm more and more acres to stay in business, have to raise more and more animals to earn the same amount of living, squeezing by on thin profit margins as the large integrators often operate with a more comfortable economic margin. The small stores close down, and folks drive to the big Walmart that's 40 miles down the road, the stores mirroring the farms, in an economic cycle that forces people to get bigger or get slowly squeezed out. 
We've been to some counties in Iowa where there's talk of having one farmer per county. The reason, is that if you're growing corn and soybeans, and using a drone tractor that does not need a person inside of it, then there's not much need for people at all. What kind of rural heritage will we have if our fields are planted and harvested by drones, and our cows milked by robots? What will we have lost as a people?
Mr. Lindeman talked about systems, about how everything is connected, about how we will all benefit if we know the people who raise our food, who run and own the local grocery store. Those dollars stay in the community, for the people who live in the community, not to the anonymous shareholders whose eyes and thoughts focus on the economic earnings measured by dividing a year on the earth into 4 quarters, in place of 4 seasons. 
We talked of similar issues in the following two classes, one of 60, and the last one of 40. 
On the road South towards Minneapolis, we arrived at the Academy For Agriculture and Science (AFSA) as it is more commonly called. We were hosted by Jordan, Caleb and Doug, the three AgEd instructors there. It's great to see a highschool dedicated to agriculture. 

About 120 kids, most of them in middle school, converged into the multipurpose space where the screening was held, part gym, part cafeteria, and now, part theater. It was amazing how quickly work got done with 120 kids to help out. The chairs, stacked high on dollies, were unloaded and laid out in rows as teachers jury-rigged an aluminum stand as high as it would go, fastening an off-white sheet to the metal frame with large metal clips, somewhat  like clothespins. 

The film is 82 minutes long, which for a group of 6th graders is a pretty long stretch. When the credits mercifully rolled, one of the restless kids said "Is it over?" his hopeful desperate tone causing a wide smile across the face. We had a question and answer session for about 15 minutes, with probably about 20 of the 120 kids in the audience still capable of concentrating after watching such a long program at the end of the school day. There were some good questions for sure, and there's total understanding about the film's length for a group of youngsters. One question asked why we pay subsidies for corn and soybeans when grass grows for free. There's a deep wisdom in a child's perspective, and often their insights have a razor-like way of cutting to the central problem. I gave a long and complicated answer, and looking back, the only proper answer would be, because we're all damned fools. 
After saying so long to the kids and handing out much-anticipated free burrito cards, we headed North and West to St. Cloud State. The weather shifted from cold to extremely cold, with wind chills under zero. We had a 7 or 8 person panel at SCSU, and the conversation went on for 1 hour and 25 minutes, which may actually be a new record. That's longer than the film. It was a great panel. Tracy talked powerfully about the way that agriculture can either bring people together, or pull them apart. And this is a literal truth. In our heartland, as farms grow into the thousands of acres, it's common that folks cannot see their neighbors, and that kids are on school buses for hours before reaching science class. At the SCSU community garden, mini-farms are found in little boxes, and people from the block come around and talk as they pull weeds or plant seeds. 
Matt, of Thousand Hills Cattle Co, a SCSU alum, talked about how he left marketing large food companies to market for a grass-fed regional aggregator. He has a slow, deliberate manner of speaking, and along with a part-time cattle raiser, John I believe, added a vital farmer perspective to the conversation. Anne, a protege of Fred Kirschenmann, talked about a number of resources for aspiring farmers, Land Stewardship Project, SARE of Iowa State, and many others. 
Rick Miller talked about the importance of environmentally healthy farming, that takes into account the natural balance of plants, animals and manure. The world cannot continue to survive monocropping, he said. 
Three screening is a long day, and we shared a dinner with Rick and Autumn and some other folks who hosted the screening. A historian sat at the table with us, and talked about how the people of America, during the American Revolution, were 70% farmers. That their values, were actually much aligned with the values of our current rural communities, of this undefined growing local hand-crafted origin movement. 
We drove further North, into gripping cold, vowing to never again forget our parking spot as we pulled into the Clifwood Motel in Little Falls, MN. 
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