Well, That Worked Until it Didn't

Turns out, the local matters after all ...

During all those years I blogged at LivingSmall, I often got pushback from people who felt compelled to convince me that the local was over, that we were all living in a glorious techno future where multinational corporations were going to take care of all our needs. We had Ikea for furniture and home goods. We had so many food systems, including those like Trader Joes and Whole Foods who pretended to be local, and friendly and “organic.” We had takeout and things like Uber Eats and you could just order in from any restaurant and have it brought to your house (well, not so much in Livingston, but I hear tales from the world out there …). Capitalism had won and our glorious future was here.

I actually had a woman make this arguement in the most local place I know, Leland Illinois. Leland is the tiny town where my great-great-great grandparents bought a railroad section in 1864 (family lore has it, with the proceeds of selling bootleg whisky out the back door of their mercantile). The Farm. Initial caps. When my mother was a child during WW2, my grandmother had all four children memorize how to walk from their apartment on Lincoln Park to The Farm. They had to recite the directions over breakfast. So that if the Germans invaded, they could at least get to The Farm where Omie, the hired man, could feed them from the flock of chickens and vegetable garden and the milk cow.

My aunt Molly lives there now, and a few years back she built a riding arena onto the existing horse barn. She raises and trains reining horses, and pays for it by taking paying customers. I was home for a visit, and we’d gone the 1/2 mile into town to have lunch at “the restaurant” — a tavern that serves beer and very good hamburgers. It’s just about the only business in town. What was the main street is deserted. There’s an ugly bank built in the 60s. When passenger rail stopped, and the interstate was cut through 30 miles north, Leland, like a lot of small towns, pretty much died.

So there we are, eating good burgers and I must have been telling Molly about my cookbook review gig at Bookslut (in advance of meeting up with my editor back in Chicago that evening), when Molly’s customer, who worked for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) felt compelled to tell me that cookbooks were a quaint anachronism, because their corporate research showed that “in a few years” no one was even going to want a kitchen in their house anymore.

Well that worked until it didn’t.

Until we all had to go home, and the gears of global industrial everything came to a grinding halt.

And we all discovered that the local does still matter, and that we all still actually live in our homes, and our neighborhoods. We’re also getting a crash course in why government matters, but that’s a topic for another day.

As someone who wrote for a little over a decade about growing food in the backyard, about making bread — both sourdough and with yeast, about raising chickens and most of all, about being saved by my community when disaster struck, it felt like maybe it wasn’t a bad time to get back in the conversation. My little town lot with chickens and a vegetable garden owes a lot to my mother’s lifelong conviction that if she could just get to The Farm, it would all be okay. A 50x100 foot lot in Montana is hardly a farm, but I feel much the same about my tiny chunk of home.

So stay tuned, and I’ll try to send you some Thoughts about once a week, on everything from which cookbooks I’m turning to in this time of crisis, to what I’m thinking about landscape/nature/wilderness/art, to what the chickens are doing and even maybe try out some chunks of the book I’m working on for you all.

Like the blogs were back in the day, seems like this is an evolving medium, and I’d love it if you’d stick around, and tell your friends if it’s something they might like.