Meat Racket Communities…

“In 1931 Springdale was a tiny crosshatch of streets populated by modest houses and small stores.  Even eighty years later, the architecture of Springdale is utilitarian, and it speaks to a meager past where the greatest economic ambition was to put food on the table and little else.  Today, the tallest buildings downtown are the grain silos, and the commercial strip downtown is a squat roof of one-and two-story rectangular buildings that look as though they were designed by architects who felt that tilting their heads upward was overly presumptuous.”

Chris Leonard, The Meat Racket

The above quote appears in the second chapter of The Meat Racket.  I think that it does a nice job of illustrating the author’s tone relative to portraying rural America.  This tone is reiterated throughout the book in descriptions of towns ranging across the Midwest from Arkansas to Kansas.  These caricatures are often followed by a commentary on how large agricultural businesses (most especially Tyson Foods) are destroying the character of rural towns.

Home to about 4000 people, and proudly marked on a local grain elevator---the tallest building in town...

Home to about 4000 people, and proudly marked on a local grain elevator—the tallest building in town…

While Springdale, Arkansas is 604 miles from Cozad, Nebraska the appearance of my town seems to structurally fit Mr. Leonard’s above description.  From the crosshatch of streets with modest homes and small stores to our grain elevators and downtown buildings, the looks of Cozad speak to the universal pragmatic nature of a farming community.

The Meat Racket’s surface description captures the physical anatomy of rural America, and intertwines it with the author’s supercilious undertone.  However, this superficial recounting missed what I believe is the most important component of small town America.

They are both the heart and future of our community...

We unite to support each and every one of them because they are our heart and our future…

Mr. Leonard, when you described our small towns you missed the core—you missed the heart—it is not in the architectural makeup of our buildings, but rather in the compassion and faith of our people.  Our community sustains because of teamwork and “home town pride” and I found that no where in your book.

When they "Win the Day" on the court, they bring both hope and pride to our towns as their hard work and faith determines our sustainability...

When they “Win the Day” on the court, they bring both hope and pride to our towns as their hard work and tenacity contributes to our sustainability…

  • I believe that the true heart of rural communities is our youth.  Recognizing this, our citizens bind together to nurture our young people, and in return, the younger generation sparks optimism and creates an ongoing sustainability for the town.
  • The agricultural businesses that are the pulse of our towns invest not only in local farmers and the economy but also encourage their employees to volunteer within the community.
  • There is a quiet pride that lives in the members of a small town, a sense of teamwork and loyalty that transcends cultural and socioeconomic boundaries.  This phenomenon is stronger than any one company and is the driving force of day to day life.

    They don't just work on the court and in the classroom, but they also take part in the family farming businesses that are the pulse of Nebraska's economy...

    Our youth don’t just work on the court and in the classroom, but they also take part in the family farming businesses that are the core of Nebraska’s vibrant economy…

Although structurally my rural community fits the author’s description, apart from this physical description, I can find no other accurate representations in the book.  Our town does not depend on one large company to tenuously hold onto survival.  Rather, we are a myriad of compassionate individuals who pool our talents in order to create a caring community atmosphere all while working to ensure a sustainable economic environment for our farms and businesses.

Rural Americans do not need a patronizing investigative reporter to inaccurately portray our towns in order to build momentum for increased government regulation of food production.  What we need is the faith and trust of our urban customers, and their willingness to believe that farmers, alongside our packing plant partners, raise food with integrity. 

Small town communities evolve over time just as farming and food production do — some people will choose a rural lifestyle and others will not.  That ability to choose is one that makes America special.  The best decision that I made in my adult life was to move to a small community in Nebraska and learn to be a farmer.

“Even in 2012, there is a sense that somehow, without small towns and rural communities, America has lost a piece of itself, even though most people today would never want to actually live on a farm or in a rural community.”

Chris Leonard: Chapter 2, The Meat Racket

I made the choice to be a farmer and have successfully made my life in rural America...

 I am living proof that there are still Americans who choose to make their lives in small town America.  My town of Cozad (along with many other rural communities) are testimony to the fact that rural America offers a unique life style that still appeals to some Americans.  Farmers are proud of what we offer to our country, and hope that our urban counterparts realize that we care about both them and the food choices that they make at the grocery store.


Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General

18 responses to “Meat Racket Communities…

  1. John Butler

    Good post

    John Butler Sent from my iPhone

  2. Ann K. Bruntz

    Anne, Your description of Rural Nebraska/America is on target. You could put the name of any rural community in place of Cozad. Great job!

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  4. Matt Burkholder

    The other night, on the way home from dinner at Mom’s, Ashley Grace looked up at the sky and started asking which stars were the Big Dipper. When we got home we spent a few minutes in the yard finding it, the North Star, Orion, and a few others.

    I guess when we look up we just expect to see something besides concrete, glass, and street lights.

    • I love that we are raising our girls in the Heartland. I can think of no greater blessing. You are correct that there is much much more to life than concrete, glass and street lights. We made a good life choice.


  5. Jeff

    “Even eighty years later, the architecture of Springdale is utilitarian, and it speaks to a meager past where the greatest economic ambition was to put food on the table and little else.”

    Stated another way: The greatest ambition of small communities was and is about family, friends and neighbors, and the intertwined support that they offer. Or, like Anne said, the heart and soul of these communities. Priorities are an amazing thing.

    The last quote from the book is yet another irony…citified folks pine for the values of the small town, yet they have no desire to do anything about it themselves, and expect others to preserve, protect and grow this identity. Yet, the thesis appears to be that the people charged with preserving these values know not what they do, but are instead pawns of all that is evil. Right, right, those who have persevered based not on economic ambition, but on something much greater, are charged with maintenance, but that direction is to be determined by those who possess goals and ambitions distinctly different.

    It is truly wonderful what can be seen when there is nothing blocking the view…

    • I assure you that my ambitions are true. I want to raise my kids in a small town with the core values that I hold dear. I also want to use both my hands and my brain to grow food to nourish others.

      I know that you can understand this—I just hope that others can as well.


      • Jeff

        Oh…no doubt about that. You have fully “un-citified” yourself. I figured that out on a dock at Midway Lake, circa Summer of 94.

        Some folks don’t understand it because they refuse to try to understand it…it’s a way of assuring themselves that they remain ‘right’ about such things. Their line of “reasoning” (I use that term loosely) is that how can anyone truly have ambitions of ‘small-town life’ when they’re missing out on all the things cities have to offer…culture, entertainment, food (no need to know where that came from) bright lights, and big buildings sporting the finest of modern design. What possibly can small towns offer that could compare they ‘legitimize’. Like Matt said, the concrete and steel gets in the way of family, friends, spirit, and values…the soul of the community.

  6. Well said, Ann; well said as usual!

  7. We do live in a great Nation where we do get to choose where we live and I would not choose anywhere else. A rural community has so much more then a few buildings, businesses and a grain elevator. It has heart. Great post Anne!

    • Thank you! I know that there are many others that agree with both of us even though we make up the minority of the population. There is nothing quite like the “heart” of a small town.


  8. Very well said Anne. I so tire of people not raised on a farm or in a small community thinking they know what is best for us and how we raise food. Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to read, comment and offer support.

      I can’t help but feel that if we reach out as individuals that we can find common ground and understanding. Unfortunately books like this get in the way of that needed effort.


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