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Plants and Politics

Where Fossil Fuels And Fertilizers Rule

I'm on assignment in southern Illinois, spending time with an insightful and open-hearted farmer named Dave Burt. He's likely to be the first person I'll be profiling for a future Morning Edition series with the working title, AMERICAN MOXIE: HOW WE GET BY.

Dave's intelligence and compassion are inspiring: his love of the land where his grandparents farmed is incredibly touching and his understanding of the global marketplace positively mind-boggling. But I won't lie. The ways in which he and other farmers around here make a living depresses me.

This part of the world is all soybeans and corn; you can drive for miles, seemingly days, and see nothing remotely resembling an ecosystem. Instead, the landscape is dominated by "Roundup Ready" crops completely dependent on chemical fertilizers and the mega-vehicles needed to sow, reap and move product to "market".

Making a living as a farmer here is stressful and high risk. The soil is stingy, the weather often brutal, the prices of everything sky high. If not for customers like ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), many of these hard-working, self-employed Americans would go broke.

That said, as I look at the monstrous trucks and tractors involved in these farm operations and the Rocky Mountain-high tons of chemicals needed to sustain this way of life, the idea of minimizing one's global footprint — whether by eating locally or reusing paper grocery bags — seems merely quaint and faddish in the face of such entrenched, overwhelming odds.

Like I said. Depressed.