The Ghost Town Effect of Big Ag.

Rural counties in the Kansas that have become dedicated to commodity agriculture are not only losing their community fabric, they are losing their people, period. In an age where big ag. is increasingly mechanized, there is less and less actual work for human hands. And, the work that does require people, like at the big slaughterhouses, is becoming increasingly outsourced to seasonal migrant workers. Many small, rural towns rested their culture and economy on being the country's 'bread basket' and feeding the world by continually increasing grain yields for the commodity market. Not only has this increase in production led to huge negative returns to scale for farmers, but it has left these towns and counties desolate and deprived of community. 55 counties in Kansas now have less than 10 people per square mile, and the state is losing its 25 - 29 year olds faster than any other in the country.

This is reminiscent of a winter I spent living in Central America working in coffee growing communities. Some regions had been completely dedicated to the mass production of coffee for the global commodity market. In those places, the majority of labor is done by low paid migrant workers, the entire economy is run by one or two companies and there is little reason for one to want to live there, especially as a young person.

Other places I visited however, like Tarrazu', Costa Rica had much more in tact local community, a wide range of ages and more participation in the community as well as the economy. These happened to be the places where coffee farms had stayed small and independent and the local economy was also built off of other crops like cacao and avocados, and industries other than agriculture such as tourism, hospitality and crafts. I was fascinated to find that many coffee farmers had built their own independent coffee mills, and shared them with their neighbors. They have much more control of their supply chain on both ends and are able to control their production to produce higher quality coffee with more variety. This agency disappears when relying on the conglomerated processing plants, returns are again diminished to scale.

The lesson I took away from this is the same idea as we are employing now: Building a system off of one national, closed off and conglomerated entity will deplete an environment of its natural human organization, and eventually dissolve the platform for real community to happen. Cultivating an economy that is local, open and independent will always result in a better long term outcome for people.

Click here to read more about loss of people and community in rural Kansas.

 

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