“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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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 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.