Breaking News: People Still Live in Small Towns

by Patrick J. Deneen on October 6, 2010 · 8 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

… and apparently like it.

Here’s a lovely article about the small town of Husser, LA. What’s remarkable about this story is that it was deemed sufficiently newsworthy to justify several inch’s space in the Hammond Star newspaper. Not too long ago, it would have been so unexceptional an experience of the average American that it would not have merited coverage (just as today, the building of a new subdivision is rarely worth mentioning).

What makes the story particularly noteworthy is the fact that Husser still survives in spite of government efforts to eliminate its existence (the name “Stalin” came to mind when I read the following passage):

“Everything was self-contained,” he said. “Everyone raised their own sheep or cows and maintained their own crops.”

Everyone had a dairy, including his parents, Morris said, and he remembers waking up at 2 a.m. to milk cows, can the milk and set it at the milk plant twice a day.

After the dairy was taken care of, Morris picked cotton in the field and cleaned the barn before going to the one-room Husser schoolhouse.

The dairy farms were the main source of livelihood until 10 years ago when the government intervened and bought the farms, he said.

“All the cows were sent to a slaughterhouse and people had to find jobs elsewhere,” he said. “Now there’s only one dairy farm left I can think of. It’s hard to imagine what people put up with.”

After the farms were sold, some people left Husser to find jobs in cities, and others came into Husser to buy land.

Good for business. Good for the GDP. Bad for Husser. The fact that it still exists – and people like to live there – is indeed newsworthy.

(H/T, our friends and Louisiana men, Rod Dreher and Ken Bickford)

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Empedocles October 6, 2010 at 9:09 am

Why did the government buy all the dairy farms?

avatar Artie October 6, 2010 at 10:10 am

The government bought the dairy cattle to keep the price of dairy products high – fewer dairy cows means less milk means higher stable prices for milk. The beef producers hated it because all the dairy cows got slaughtered and sold for beef, driving down the price of beef. Love that free market.

avatar John Gorentz October 6, 2010 at 11:03 am

Usually it’s due to dairy buyout programs, like Artie said. The dairy industry is about as far from the free market as you can get, except perhaps by going back into the old Soviet Union. I once got into a heated discussion with a former president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association on these issues — he had a whole litany of reasons why they don’t think the free market should be allowed to determine price levels and herd size. I of course had reasons why he was full of crap — a common commodity in the dairy business.

These buyout programs and other subsidies are often sold on the basis of protecting the family farm, but they usually do just the opposite.

Ag subsidies are the root of all evil, not only in the U.S. but in every industrialized country, capitalist or socialist. In our country I blame ag subsidies for the housing bubble and financial crisis, as well as for the failure of the Gingrich revolution.

I may be repeating stuff I’ve already said in this forum, but independent farms, with the family as an economic unit, are a threat to the welfare-police state. Stalin took care of the problem on his end by killing the kulaks. We did it in our country by turning them into welfare queens. Both programs started about the same time, but Stalin was in a bigger hurry. Even Stalin did not quite finish the job in his country, though. Piers Vitebsky’s fascinating book, “The Reindeer People : Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia” explains how an isolated remnant of family-oriented reindeer herding was wiped out _after_ the fall of the Soviet Union. (There are similarities and differences between reindeer herds and herds of animals of genus Bos.)

avatar Russell Arben Fox October 6, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Patrick’s reference to Stalin, and all the talk about agricultural subsidies (which are, I will freely grant, every bit as damaging in principle as everyone says, though not always quite so much in practice, as I have argued before), seems at best only somewhat appropriate to the topic of the article. For one thing, there was no talk of the government stealing the land, which means they bought it, which means owners (foolishly?) sold it to them. For another thing, the article seems to make it clear that most of the folks that have left dairy farming have done so because because feed prices kept going up and making their vocations less profitable. No doubt, the increase in feed costs is tightly related to the monopolistic control over much of the meat and dairy industry which abused government subsidies make possible, but ultimately the fault lies with those who profit from an ever-expanding socio-economic system, in which keeping goods inexpensive enough to make them available for those who simply wanted to maintain their self-sufficient lives is replaced as a priority with ever more specialization and mobility. Government, sometimes, can be used to manage that, as it did for years in Kentucky, helping to preserve the independent tobacco farmer. Too bad dairy farms haven’t had nearly as much support.

avatar Kenneth Bickford October 6, 2010 at 1:31 pm

At first blush, I thought the digression on the plight of the family farm was straying from the point I found so fascinating: The specimen-like quality of a community that had outlived its contemporaries long enough to become an antique curiosity in the 21st century. It gave me hope that if someone other than the Amish could do it, then maybe there was hope for the rest of us.

But the replacement of local production and local consumption with production far from one’s home and consumption from points even farther removed is perhaps the main way in which community has been disaggregated, is it not? We no longer know the people for whom we produce nor the people who produce what we consume. Community–to the extent it remains at all–becomes a thing of abstraction rather than concreteness.

I spoke with Morris Husser a few minutes ago and the facts are these:

The government did not buy farms, they bought dairy cows.

Under the terms of the program, farmers were only allowed to sell them to the government.

The dairy cows were slaughtered without exception.

Farmers were paid one price per head–regardless of whether the cow in questioned produced x or 5x gallons of milk per day.

Farmers were required to stay out of the dairy business for approximately ten years after the sale.

***

According to Mr. Husser, one of the farmers who participated in the program just recently re-entered dairy farming.

I still consider it to be a fascinating fact that Husser, Louisiana has retained some of the hallmarks of community in a modern environment which is overtly hostile to such.

Here are my comments to Patrick when I sent him the link this morning:

“Husser is about ten miles north of my development, and in my youth was just another of the hundreds of backwoods communities that had managed to finagle a name for itself. Anyway, what’s fascinating about the article from my perspective is that with very few modifications, it would probably make an excellent entry for The Onion.

By this, I do not mean that I think the article is funny. The description of this place could have fit thousands of places in our country just a short time ago. It’s just that today real community is quaint, and that makes it ripe for satirization.

Neither the folks who live there nor the reporter who wrote the story nor the paper that published it nor the subscribers who read it saw anything remarkable in the story. And that, in and of itself, strikes me as most remarkable.

I am particularly fond of the part where the town buffalo is replaced by a laundromat.”

avatar John Gorentz October 6, 2010 at 4:29 pm

If we want people to consume locally grown food, one thing we could do is eliminate food safety regulations at the national level. But often it’s the same people who want the latter who decry the loss of the former. They keep whacking themselves on the head with a ballpeen hammer and can’t understand why their headache keeps getting worse.

avatar John Gorentz October 6, 2010 at 4:39 pm

From a 10-year-old report on the tobacco program: “The number of tobacco growers declined by two-thirds over the last 30 years while tobacco production stayed roughly constant at about 1.7 billion pounds.”

This is from a report that says it would have been worse without tobacco price supports and quotas. Possibly so, but what this demonstrates is how our kulaks have been turned into welfare queens. Bigger and wealthier welfare queens, but welfare queens just the same.

avatar John Gorentz October 6, 2010 at 5:11 pm

If you like locally produced food, how about some along with locally produced electricity from a ma and pa electrical utility company? I happened to come across one one on a bike ride back in March, and did several blog posts about it. Here are links to a couple of them:

http://www.spokesrider.com/2010/04/01/arrival-at-greenfield-mills/

http://www.spokesrider.com/2010/04/08/it-powers-a-village/

I thought it was kind of neat. But I got the impression that the business was touch and go for the family — Pa, Ma, and their two children. Although they didn’t talk about it directly, I would worry that one more regulation from the food safety Nazis, and poof! another small, local food producer will be gone.

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