The Irony of it All
Yesterday’s Sunday Parade Magazine included a feel-good cover story about Warren Buffett’s 57-year-old son, Howard G. Buffett, a farmer who farms 1,400 acres near Decatur, Illinois. He grows corn, soybeans, and wheat. In addition, he helps his own son farm 400 acres in Nebraska and his foundation has 9,200 acres in South Africa, 2,900 in Illinois, and 1,245 in Arizona.
Howard Buffett’s cause is feeding the food-insecure people right here in America. The article includes a number of worthy organizations and ways in which we can all help in this effort and that is its theme, with the title, “The Good Farmer: Howard G. Buffett’s Crusade to Eliminate Hunger in America”.
If one steps back and looks at this situation with a big picture view, it becomes a parody, however, as Howard Buffett nearly admits, but not quite, in the following quote:
Last year I attended a Thanksgiving dinner at Harris Elementary School right here in Decatur, where I learned that 92 percent of the kids are on free or reduced-cost lunches. I spoke with some parents who told me that school lunch is the best meal their kids get all day. That shocked me because the school sits in a community that has the largest food-processing facility in the world for corn and the second largest for soybeans; 1,500 to 2,000 train cars roll out of those plants and through these kids’ neighborhoods every day. The irony of that is unbelievable.
If we visit the USDA’s interactive food desert map to see where Buffett’s hometown of Decatur stands in this desert, we find this:
The definition of a food desert is this: A food desert is a district in an urban or rural setting with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods needed to maintain a healthy diet. Instead of such stores,these districts often contain many fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
As you can see, the size of the food desert around Decatur isn’t as large as those found in much of Missouri. And I don’t wish to confuse the ability to afford food with the availability of food, although they are related — since the cost of transportation to obtain food is a factor in its affordability and the healthful quality of the food that is available is the issue.
Back to the parody. It’s really not so funny. The “Breadbasket of the World” no longer grows real food and the people living in these rural areas have a difficult time accessing food, often having to drive long distances before ending up at the nearest Walmart.
Furthermore, one of the Midwest’s leading philanthropists is a farmer who is trying to stamp out hunger in America, but his own community is starving for food, which he could, but does not actually choose to grow.
And what does his starving community have to say about the wealth that has supposedly been infused into small-town America because of today’s high commodity prices and high-production agriculture?
From the monoculture crops grown in the Midwest today, forty-two percent of the corn and sixteen percent of the soybeans are being used to fuel vehicles, a politically-driven practice supported by taxpayers, which is mandated by our federal government. Much of the remainder is used as livestock feed, or exported.
As a personal illustration, a couple of years ago when I visited my parents who live in a farming community in Northeastern Nebraska, I asked my mother if she knew of anyone who raised ducks in the area so that I could buy some to take back with me to Colorado. She answered, “Nobody raises ducks around here. You need to get those in your grocery store.”