Merriott column: Thoughts on thoughts about black lives and farming
Long ago and far away in a small town in North Louisiana called Farmerville, I spent a good bit of my childhood on my Grandmother’s farm especially during the hot and humid Louisiana summers. Well at least it was a farm to me, certainly not a factory farm like we find ourselves joined at the hip with today. It was then to me bigger than life.
It had a huge (to me) two story barn big enough for a milking stall for “Old Toots” complete with a three legged stool, an adjacent stall for Old Toots and her yearly calf, a cage for the spring bitties and of course the proverbial hay loft with WWII letters — a veritable treasure trove in itself. There was a quarter acre garden full of collard greens, butter beans, purple hull peas, corn, tomatoes, potatoes and State Fair Zinnias, almost as tall as me, all the colors of a rainbow, and God they were beautiful. There was a 20 acre pasture with a branch that ran thorough it full of tadpoles and crawdads and a chicken coup down below the rock wall that I almost burned down on 4th of July with firecrackers, but that’s for another day.
But what really made it a special place was who lived there, and that would be Mammy and Katie. Mammy of course was my Grandmother who was widowed during the depression leaving her with five young children. Rumor has it that my Grandfather would put them all on his horse and ride downtown and someone would holler “Emmet how many children do you have?” He would always holler back 4 white ones and one black one and that was Katie.
Katie lost her Mom in a freak accident on the farm. Katie was taken in by the Mitchells at the age of 4. She was like a black mother to me and I could do no wrong. I loved her so much. My memories of picking and shelling butter beans, milking Old Toots and searching the back 20 acres to find where Toots had dropped her yearly calf are powerful, especially in this day and time.
Black lives have always mattered to me and my family and now you see why all that is happening today is especially heartbreaking.
That and the factory farms of today. I remember Mammy traded with the Deans for a hog every year and she used every bit of it. One morning I made the mistake of asking what Katie was putting in my scrambled eggs and Mammy said “hog brains — what do you think gives them that great flavor?” I never saw any animal mistreated, and the cows roamed the pasture, and the chickens the yard; and the Dean hogs had big pens so they could well be happy hogs.
I read last week that because of the shutdown of the processing plants due to the coronavirus that hundreds of thousands of pigs and cows and millions of chickens ready for market had to be “depopulated.” The pig killing was especially offensive and done by Iowa Select Farms in Grundy County. It was a mass extermination and was done under a “ventilation shutdown.” The pigs were herded into a huge barn all airway’s were sealed and scalding steam was pumped inside where the temperature surpassed 140 degrees Farenheit. The pigs basically suffocated and roasted to death over several hours. They did this to avoid paying the cost of keeping them alive? Many pigs still survived and had to be killed with bolt guns to the forehead. Never mind that these are sentient animals as intelligent as dogs.
Why do I tell you this in an otherwise idyllic country setting column? Well, because my Grandmother and Katie would be in shock, as I am, that we as a society have gotten ourselves in a situation with factory farming where not only can’t the animals turn around while being raised, but if it starts costing money to keep them alive they are then mass murdered. This despite unprecedented demand at food banks? Oh yes, and raising pigs cows and chickens in a factory farm setting subjects us to another as yet unknown epidemic going from animals to humans similar to what coronavirus has done.
So how did we get from the family farm to the abuses of the factory farm? Greed, too many people, laziness, lack of leadership, some combination of it all?
We must do better.
Frosty Merriott is a CPA in Carbondale where he served 10 years on Town Council and is now on the Chamber of Commerce Executive Board and the Carbondale Environmental Board.
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