Agriculture

Ground Operation

IT’S A MAY evening on the farm. My husband’s planting tomatoes and our son needs a bedtime story, but I’m completely occupied with pictures of war. I’ve cleared the piles of laundry from the kitchen table so our friend Adam can spread out his albums. There are photos of Adam in his tidy platform tent, of brown mountains in the distance, and dozens of pictures of children grinning on the other side of razor wire.

“This is an Aardvark,” he says, pointing to a gargantuan armored vehicle as he describes the flails that detonate buried mines. “What does that do to the soil?” I ask, because this is what you wonder when you and your family have been Mennonite farmers since the Reformation. There are a few more photos before I finally get it. Adam is showing me Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military hub in Afghanistan, surrounded by minefields and littered with burned-out tanks and planes, the wreckage of war from the Soviets. No one farms here, or has, or will for a long, long time.

FOR THE PAST three seasons, Adam McDermott has come to our farm in Central Pennsylvania’s Stone Valley every Friday morning to harvest vegetables for the food bank. We always chat while we bunch beets or pick green beans, and now I wonder why we’ve never talked about his years in the Army.

“This farm has definitely been part of my therapy,” he tells me, while offering a brief sketch of his months in Iraq: taking heavy equipment down unfamiliar roads to set off hidden explosives, being promoted to sergeant, and then losing three friends when a bomb shattered their Humvee. Adam came home in 2008 with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an alcohol addiction. “A lot of guys struggle with alcohol,” Adam says. “In the military you have camaraderie and a sense of purpose. But when you get back, there’s just this big void.”

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Farmer

Farmer walking in a corn field, Sandra Cunningham / Shutterstock.com

Farmer walking in a corn field, Sandra Cunningham / Shutterstock.com

Grandpa, you are my Pepa. Before me, you were
Robert Elias Cunningham: son, brother, husband and father but
God, through my birth, made you Grandpa and
I, in my smallness, through toddling talk and wondering words, made you 
Pepa.

Now, deep in my life, I feel you kneeling in your garden,
Planting your plants,
Your skin the color of newly plowed rows, your smell the humble smell of dirt.
Sweat drips off your forehead and mixes with rain and soil and
Nourishes the plants so they can grow.

Ethiopia: How Foreign Aid Has Helped a Generation

View of the Amhara Region from the plane bound from Addis Ababa. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

LALIBELA, Ethiopia -- You know the images you have in your mind of Ethiopia from 27 years ago? The ones from the nightly news reports on TV about the famine in the Horn of Africa as the death toll mounted and horror stories grew more unfathomable by the day.

Scorched, cracked earth. The carcasses of ematiated, dead cattle lying in the baking sun. Hundreds of thousands of stick-thin refugees wandering in the dust, hoping to have enogh strength to make it to a camp that might have water and food. The babies and children with orange hair and distended stomachs -- indications that they were in the advanced stages of malnutrition and starvation.

I am happy to report that the Ethiopia of 2012 is not the Ethiopia of 1985.

Thanks to global efforts (Live Aid, etc., back in the day), foreign aid, and the very real efforts of the Ethiopian government and people themselves, the land I saw earlier this month looks nothing like those old images in my mind. In fact, parts of the country that we traveled through were so verdent and lush -- farmlands rolling out in various shades of green like a St. Patrick's Day quilt  -- that if you'd blindfolded me when I got on the plane and taken the blind of when I stepped of the bus in the rural area outside Bahir Dar near the Sudanese border, I might have thought I was in Ireland's County Kerry rather than Ethiopia's Amhara Region.

Ethiopia is beautiful. In every way. It's people. It's resilience. It's ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit. In the way it cares for its land and its people, and the way they care for each other and their visitors. There is a spirit in Ethiopia I've experienced only rarely elsewhere. In a word I'd call it HOPE. But it's a hope not based on daydreams and fairytales. It's a hope based in hard work, smart planning, and forward thinking.

Immigration Reform: The Only Way to Solve America’s Agricultural Woes

Photo: Migrant farm workers in California, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Migrant farm workers in California, spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

America is in dire need of comprehensive immigration reform. It is an ethical and moral issue for sure, but it is also an economic one. Our nation’s future economy prosperity depends on migrant labor. Immigration laws that have been passed in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama have severely hurt the state economies, local communities, and small businesses that rely upon migrant workers for farm labor.

The Senior Editor of CNBC.com, John Carney has asserted that there is no crisis related to a shortage of migrant farm workers. Well, to be perfectly blunt, I believe that Mr. Carney is wrong.

Bono to the G8: Transparency, 'We Won't Have Food Security Without It'

Bono addresses the G8 symposiumon food security Friday in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

In a room filled with African heads of state, captains of industry, leaders of international development and countless executives from NGOs at the G8 Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, D.C. late last week, stood one Irish rock star — Bono, the lead singer of U2 and co-founder of the ONE Campaign.

At first blush (to the uninitiated, perhaps), Bono's presence might seem incongruous, but most of the folks in the room at the Ronald Reagan building a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue know the Irishman more for his tireless humanitarian efforts than his closet full of Grammy awards. For more than 25 years, Bono, 52, has been involved deeply and effectively in international affairs as a champion for the poorest of the poor.

"Can we manage the oil as well as the farmland? Manage it properly, responsibly, transparently?" Bono asked the audience. "Because when we don’t, you know what happens. Hundreds of billions of dollars got lost to oil and gas corruption in Nigeria. That’s what the watchdog groups are telling us. Just mind blowing. Huge numbers.

"Crops need sunlight. So does resource extraction. Both need sunlight’s disinfecting glare. Isn’t transparency the vaccine to prevent the worst disease of them all? Corruption. Everybody here knows that corruption kills more children than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. So that’s what I want to leave you with. That very simple word. That very simple concept. Easy to say. Much harder to realize, especially in law. The word 'transparency.'

"We won’t have food security without it," he said. "But we will have oil riches without it but those riches will be held and hidden by very few hands."

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