Smile Politely

Fear and loathing in Funks Grove

For one hour on an unseasonably hot day, I did what many in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District have only heard of in songs and legends: I asked Congressman Rodney Davis policy questions, and he was obligated to respond. The date was Thursday, June 6th. I left about 30 minutes early and drove toward Shirley, Illinois. I am late for most things, but I would not be late for this.

Siblings Jonathan and Katie Funk, along with Katie’s husband Jeff Hake, operate their family business in Davis’ district. Funks Grove Heritage Fruits and Grains is a new 9-acre specialty fruit and grain farm located in a region that was first settled by the Funk family in 1824, and is located along historic Route 66 in McLean County, six miles outside Bloomington. Together, the family works to evolve the small farm with organic and sustainable farming practices. Mike and Debby Funk (parents of Katie and Jonathan) — along with their nephew, Sean Funk, and Jonathan — operate Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup and farm of about 1,000 acres of row crops, 100 acres of which they are transitioning into organic row crop production. The sirup shop sells their wheat crop in the form of rustic stoneground whole flour and pancake mix, and their flint corn in the form of jonnycake mix, as well as pure maple sirup. You can also find their products at Green Top Grocery in Bloomington and Common Ground Grocery Co-op in Urbana.

The Funks are on the frontlines of the climate crisis and will bear the costs of the President’s tariffs. Between 2012 and 2017, farmers in McLean County have seen their average farm income cut in half because of climate change and global trade conditions. The Funks have adapted their farming practices to account for those risks and mitigate the damage done by the crisis. For Funks Grove Heritage Fruits and Grains, their neighbors are their customers. They are proud that much of the buckwheat, winter wheat, barley, flint corn, popcorn, and pure maple sirup feed their community, and they’ll do what they must to continue to do that.

In May 2019, Congressman Rodney Davis, the man with power to help solve these pressing problems, requested to visit their “organic start-up company” for one hour on June 6th at precisely 1:15 p.m. The email was strange and unexpected. Last year, Jeff and Katie met Davis at a farmer’s roundtable event, and extended an invitation to visit their farm. They didn’t expect that he would accept the offer, because Davis refuses to meet with groups that are politically opposed to his agenda.

McLean County residents turn out to meet Davis for the same reason Champaign County residents do. Whether we like it or not, we rely on him to represent our interests on matters of national importance. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution invests in Congress the authority to check the actions of the two other branches of government.

Or that’s what the Founders intended, anyway.

The Funks couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk to one of the few people empowered to help their neighbors survive the next year. The climate crisis is among the most pressing problems Illinois farmers face, and President Trump’s trade wars have made matters worse. Illinois produces about 15 percent of the nation’s corn, and we are off to the slowest start to a planting season on record. Our farmers are not just looking at a lean year, they are staring down a record-breaking, catastrophic loss that will break many farms and shake global markets. To date, less than half of Illinois corn has been planted and a margin of that is expected to make it to market. Swamps stand where corn and soybean fields should be.

As a 3-term Congressman, Davis has the ear of Republican leadership. He sits on the House Agriculture Committee; it is his job to advise his House colleagues on issues that impact farmers. In the past, he has been instrumental in passing Republican legislation that nearly cost him his seat in Congress. Presumably, he has amassed a good deal of political capital from these unpopular choices and now would be a good time to cash that in.

Moreover, Davis has experience calling out acts of executive overreach and supporting measures that do the same. First elected in 2013, Davis often voiced his concern for acts of executive overreach under the Obama administration. In 2015, Davis cosponsored the REINS Act, which served as a check on executive power. If he so chose, he could resurrect that bill to protect Illinois farmers against costly trade wars. He could even reuse the floor speech he gave in support of the REINS Act in 2015. It’s a matter of public record. He argued:

“I think it is only right to require very costly and burdensome regulations being created by this Administration’s regulatory environment to actually show the taxpayers the cost benefit of what the executive branch’s decision is going to be on the taxpayers of this country.”

Ideally, he could lend his support to other Republican-backed bills that aim to limit Trump’s authority to impose tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

The average reader of Smile Politely knows Davis will not take any action to check executive power. We live in Champaign County. We’ve waited in the summer heat to attend his silly office hours. We’ve endured his self-congratulating “tele-townhalls.” Champaign-Urbana, I need not remind you that even those shallow opportunities to address Davis have dried up over the past couple years. We know full well he votes at the behest of Republican Congressional leadership, consistently and without apology, often at the expense of his own district. Most C-U residents will tell you Rodney Davis is a feckless back-bench Republican. It’s why almost 31 percent of all the votes received by Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, Davis’ 2018 challenger, came from Champaign County. We would crawl over broken glass to unseat Rodney Davis in 2020 even if Mr. Eggwards were the only alternative on the ballot.

The Funks notified local media sources of Davis’ visit to bring attention to the problems that face their community. I help lead CU Indivisible, a prominent foil for Davis, and I’ve also faced off with him in several local news stories. The expertise I brought to this meeting is my understanding of the legislative process, the responsibilities incumbent upon members of Congress, and Davis’ record. When I arrived, I joined a group of mostly women, each deeply invested in Illinois farming policy: Molly Gleason and Liz Rupel of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, as well as Lindsey Keeney, Alli Fry, and Eliot Clay of the Illinois Environmental Council. They spent the moments before Davis arrived strategizing and deciding which points were most important to make in the limited time they had. I noticed I was the only one there to report on the event. I swiped my Unseat Rodney Davis magnet off my car, stashed it in my trunk, and anxiously chomped on a carrot.

I’ve distilled the visit into the main topics we discussed: the experiences of farmers in Central Illinois, Davis’ work on the Agricultural Census, his inaction on the climate crisis, and his position on Trump’s trade tariffs. Feel free to check my work. It’s a satisfying read and maddening snapshot of our political moment. The audio of the first portion of the visit is available here, and video of the final half is available here.

Farming in Illinois

“My Farmers work full time, they don’t need part time work to get by.”

I hadn’t seen my representative in the flesh in two years, and then, just like that, he appeared. Davis arrived right on time, accompanied by one staffer. He rounded the corner and began shaking hands. When he shook mine, I introduced myself, and watched as his face soured when I said “Emily Rodriguez…I’m with Smile Politely today.”

When we finished our introductions, Jeff and Katie began to describe the work they do. Early in the conversation, Davis used the phrase “my farmers.” He does this often in House Agriculture Committee meetings. I believe it’s intended to create a sense of solidarity with farmers in his district. At one point, he claimed, “My farmers work full time, they don’t need to work off farm.” This statement really, really bothered Jeff and Katie. For farmers in Illinois, it’s hard to scrape out a living. The Illinois Farm Bureau reports in 2018 a large majority of farmers in Illinois work part time (57 percent). Among those farmers that work several jobs, 37 percent work off-farm 200 days.  

Not only was the statement inaccurate, it also erased a significant facet of Katie’s childhood. For over 30 years, Katie’s and Jonathan’s dad Mike worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and in order to gain long-term benefits when he retired. He woke up at 2 a.m. five days a week to work at the UPS facility in Bloomington-Normal until 7:30 a.m. When he finished, he worked on the grain farm and the sirup operation. The extra work was necessary, but it meant long days and early bedtimes for Mike that restricted family time. The work also took a toll on Mike’s body — he has seen a chiropractor for decades and has undergone knee surgery.

Today, Katie works extra hours as a freelance editor. Later, Katie mentioned to her dad that Rodney Davis had scoffed at the idea that “his farmers” had off-farm jobs. Mike replied, “Well, we’re a small farm, and that’s the problem — plenty of work to go around but hardly enough income and benefits. He must have been referring to larger, corporate farms.”

Who Davis believes to be “his farmers” matters a great deal. He has served on the conference committee that has created the past two Farm Bills. That means Davis has a powerful mechanism to alleviate rural poverty and expand safety nets like crop insurance. Based on 2017 American Community Survey data, the poverty rate in rural Illinois is 14.2 percent, compared with 12.4 percent in urban areas of the State. Davis has spoken about ending the cycle of poverty through SNAP funding, although he has also argued Congress ought to allocate an even smaller portion of Farm Bill funds to SNAP programs. Today, 16 percent of people living in rural communities receive SNAP benefits. This exceeds the national average of 12 percent. Davis has also advocated for strict work requirements for SNAP recipients.

Net farm income has dropped about 50 percent since 2013; that’s the largest four year decrease since the Great Depression. The struggles U.S. farmers face precede the Trump administration. Yet, according to the New York Times, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue’s March budget request revealed plans to deprioritize research into problems perceived to be politically sensitive, such as conservation, rural development, and food assistance. Former USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) Administrator Susan Offutt explained that these plans benefit the President and lobbyists: “Controlling ERS would stop unflattering news about federal farm subsidies favoring high-income, high-wealth farm households from reaching the public.” That means the problems low and middle income farmers face are downplayed by the USDA in large part because they represent a key demographic for the President’s reelection prospects.

Perdue suppressed the findings of a recent ERS report that found key pieces of Republican legislation have caused significant harm to most farmers. The report projected that 70 to 80 percent of the Republican tax law’s benefits, which Rep. Davis ardently supported, will flow to the top 1 percent of farm households by income. The rewrite will actually shrink tax refunds for the lowest-earning 20 percent of farm households; “the lowest quintile is actually getting a tax raise under this,” the report said. The reason stems from a combination of changes in the tax rewrite, including its elimination of a tax break for domestic production. Perdue has made other moves to restructure USDA research agencies. I explain those actions in the next section.

The Agricultural Census

“Anyway, I had it cut.”

Jeff noted Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains had received a private grant, and the application process was much less cumbersome than an application for a federal grant. “I don’t get it. That’s government for ya,” Davis replied. Then the lawmaker said something remarkable:

“You guys do the Ag Census, right? Part of the jurisdiction of my subcommittee is the USDA’s Statistics and Analysis division. We did a hearing on the Ag Census, and they were asking questions like, ‘On a scale of 1-10, how do you determine yourself to be a risk taker, 10 being high risk, one being not so much.’ I’m like, what does that mean? Why in the world do they want to know your mental state of where you think you take a risk and where somebody else does? That is not something that can be codified into a product of statistical analysis, it’s too subjective. So I ask the question of the guy who is in charge of the survey, and he said ‘Well, I think I’m probably a 6, but my wife would say I’m a 10.’ And I said, see, even you can’t answer the question, so why is it on there? And guess what, it’s not on there anymore. Now it’s gone.”

The quip was meant to impress Katie and Jeff, to bond with them in the shared understanding of a technical issue. It did the opposite. The Agricultural Census is an enormously important survey conducted and published every five years. It provides a comprehensive picture of U.S. agriculture that is used by lawmakers and farmers to plan and write policy. Two USDA agencies are particularly important to the Ag Survey: The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) that Davis referred to creates the survey used to collect the data, and the ERS interprets and analyzes that data for policymakers and market analyses. Both agencies are deeply concerned with the risks farm businesses take and the risk management strategies they use. It is the job of these agencies to collect and interpret subjective and objective data to avoid disruptions in production and fluctuating market prices.

When the USDA talks about risk, they consider how farmers are influenced by uncertainty; how the stability of prices, crop yields, government policies, and foreign markets influence their choices and strategies. The Risk Management Agency of the USDA uses Ag Survey data on risk to equip farmers with better risk management solutions. Nearly a dozen federal government programs exist to support the efforts of these agencies. It is inarguable that risk is something the USDA has been traditionally invested in addressing.

Davis may have actually weakened the USDA’s ability to aid farmers in the 13th Congressional District. If the USDA does not have access to subjective data, they have less insight on farmers’ decision making process. The risk estimation of 6 or 10 on a Likert scale is quite serious. We can assume stress and anxiety are likely a part of the daily life of that farmer’s family, but we won’t know if that is shared by farmers in Central Illinois or anywhere else in the nation. Perception of risk (e.g., stress, mental state, political instability, unpredictable weather patterns, global trade wars) shapes key planting decisions.

Davis’ move accompanies efforts made by the Trump administration to censor the experiences of small farmers through the USDA’s research process. Recently Politico reported that Perdue announced a concerted effort to reshape the USDA’s research wing. He, too, has unique opinions about what “fact based” research should look like. “In USDA, we want good scientific discovery,” Perdue said. He continued:

“We know that research, some has been found in the past to not have been adequately peer-reviewed in a way that created wrong information, and we’re very serious when we say we’re fact-based, data-driven decision makers. That relies on sound, replicatable science rather than opinion. What I see unfortunately happening many times is that we tried to make policy decisions based on political science rather than on sound science.”

The similarities in Perdue’s and Davis’ statements are uncanny. After reports emerged that Perdue had suppressed reports that cast the Trump agenda in an inconvenient light, six prominent economists exited the agency. Davis has jurisdiction over the USDA’s Statistics and Analysis division. He is well positioned to ensure the USDA is hearing from all farmers, both good and bad experiences, regardless of the implications for any partisan agenda.

The Climate Crisis

“So, what do we do?”

Jeff then moved onto the issue he, Katie, and Debby set out to address. “Climate change is the thing that we really concerned about.” He explained it’s a motivator for why they do what they do, “it’s also why we invited you down here.” Gesturing to the empty field in front of us, Jeff said, “This is not how it’s supposed to be. It should be productive out here. It’s affecting this area in ways that are hard to describe because this is happening in a long time frame.” Jeff plainly stated his case. “So, if you’re here to hear from us, I’ll tell you that’s the main thing we’re concerned about. These bad years will happen more and more often, and we need to change the way we farm to adapt.”

“So, what do we do?” the lawmaker replied.

I screamed internally when he said this. We’ve known of the climate crisis for 30 years. It is breathtaking that Davis — a three-term Congressman hailing from a state that produces more corn and soybeans than almost any other state in the Union, with all the resources at his disposal the taxpayers of Illinois have afforded him, a man who serves on the committee that has established farm policy for agriculture in the nation’s capital for almost 200 years — would ask his constituents what he ought to do to abate a crisis set to devastate their community.

Jeff gave a nervous chuckle. He knows Davis’ understanding of his role in the climate crisis matters a great deal. “Ha, well, of course there are two ways of talking about dealing with climate change. There’s mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is on our end. That’s why we do what we do…” Davis interrupted before Jeff could talk about adaptation. “I’ve got farmers along the Mississippi that have had this in 1992.” He conceded this is one of the wettest years Illinois has seen at this time. Davis then asked, “What effects have you seen that have shown you there is a pattern we need to be concerned with? Do you anticipate this [points to the field] next year?”

Katie noted that the unpredictable weather is a part of the problem climate change poses to farmers. “When I was growing up, the season always…” Davis again changed the subject. “Why is sirup spelled with an ‘I’?” he wondered aloud, and then made a joke about Mrs. Butterworth’s and copyright law in that whispery voice of his. Everyone gave a nervous laugh because OMG this man actually decides our future.

Katie and Jeff did everything possible to make sure Davis left their farm with a more accurate understanding of the crisis. The slow-moving effect of climate change will impact Funks Grove sirup production erratically, but will generally reduce sap yield over the next decade. This is because Funks Grove is situated at the very tip of the climate region that enables sugar maples to produce large, harvestable quantities of sap, and that climate region is shifting northward. The Funks draw sap from 3,000 sugar maple trees that rely on a particular moisture balance. Sugar maples don’t like “wet feet,” and increased soil moisture threatens their general health. The extended growing season will exacerbate pest threats, and the wetter springs will cause root rot, ultimately leading to greater destruction to trees.

I saw little to suggest Congressman Davis is interested in — or understands — the ways the changing climate will impact his district. That’s a big problem. Each time the climate crisis was mentioned, he replied “Well, has that been consistent over the years?” Of course, identifying a consistent change across consecutive years is not the point, that is not the way the climate crisis manifests. Climate change does not yield predictable, uninterrupted patterns of weather, it creates unpredictable and more intense weather patterns. Just as a plane in a downward spiral may increase in elevation momentarily, the trajectory is clear: Landfall.

Davis continued to use dad jokes to direct the conversation from the climate crisis toward safer topics. I interrupted. “Before we leave the climate crisis, sir, you sit on the House Agriculture Committee. What solutions are you discussing to help farmers in your district meet these challenges?” For the next two minutes, my congressman explained to me that he had no legislative power, that the new Democratic majority censors agricultural issues, and therefore had no obligation to fight for increased aid for the farmers of Illinois’ 13th Congressional District in the face of the climate crisis.

“Well, really, this year, under this new leadership, we don’t have many Ag Committee hearings,” he replied. The House Agriculture Committee has met hundreds of times in the past year, but whatever, who’s counting? Even if we are to accept the lie as truth, the idea that the work of congressional committees begins and ends in public meetings is outrageous.

I reminded Davis he has had a hand in the last two Farm Bills, both created by a conference committee. In this setting, proceedings are driven by the Agriculture Committee, but also include conferees from departments like Education and Commerce, Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Government Reform, and Natural Resources Committees.

“Well, we are talking about climate change and weather patterns,” Davis continued, “mostly what we’ve done is encourage more organics. I’ve been named Legislator of the Year by the Organic Trade Association, the first Republican ever to be named. “We’ve got to do more to make it easier to farm organic,” he added, “and we’ve done more of that in this last Farm Bill than ever done. You know, that’s another reason why I keep getting honored by the organic folks.” Rep. Davis referenced this achievement again moments later. “We can always do more, but it’s a slow process. You know, when I was first elected in the land of conventional agriculture, I never imagined I would be honored by the first Republican ever to be named Legislator of the Year by the Organic Trade Association.”

Davis flaunted the title designation three times in the space of five minutes. Jeff later called the Organic Trade Association (OTA) “garbage” and the designation meaningless. The OTA is one of the main lobbying organizations responsible for pushing to water down the organic standards. Jeff explained the OTA also works to give the world’s largest food companies access to an ever-growing share of the organic market while diluting organic standards. The OTA misses the mark of the original intent of the organic standards: sustainable practices that make food safer and are better for the environment.

President Trump’s Trade Tariffs

“Yeah, Article 1 says a lot of things.”

Toward the end of our visit, before tariffs entered the conversation, Molly Gleason brought up the policy issue she had planned to address. Gleason is an authority on her subject. As she spoke, Davis took a guide to regional local produce out of her hand and began to flip through it. “Yeah, sure, take that,” she said. She explained there are 100 farms like Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains that follow organic practices, but because of their local focus, aren’t well served in the organic certification process. These farms need more funding than the previous Farm Bill provided to build local markets, she explained.

“Sure. That’s good to know,” Davis said. I clenched my fist and unleashed a slightly combative line of questions that escalated the emotional tenor of the visit. I will omit these details for the sake of space, dear reader, but know this exchange likely precipitated what Davis’ staffer said next.  

The staffer announced the Congressman had to leave for a live interview. Debby Funk then made her move. She had planned to talk to Davis about the impact President Trump’s trade wars have had on Central Illinois. Last year, Trump announced massive tariffs on China, the 2nd largest importer of U.S. soybeans. A year later, Trump announced additional tariffs on Mexico, the 2nd largest importer of U.S. corn. In March of 2018, McLean County had record-high soybean and corn yields — the highest in the state, followed by Champaign County. The tariffs dropped the market price of soybeans in a time when Illinois farmers needed it most. In retaliation to the tariffs, China essentially stopped buying soybeans from the U.S. Recently, Mike Doherty, a senior economist and policy analyst for the Illinois Farm Bureau, explained that the tariffs have created multi-layered problems for Central Illinois even a year later: “We have ended up with the largest inventory we have had in awhile,” he said that the Economic Development Corporation’s quarterly meeting, “we are sitting on soybeans which we need to sell, but it was the farmers’ decision to sit on them and because we have a large inventory, the prices aren’t likely to increase.” Both corn and soybeans can stay in storage for 2-3 years before spoiling, if conditions are dry (and they aren’t).

Debby handed Davis an article by Alan Guebert, an award-winning agricultural journalist and author  of the Farm & Food File syndicated column. In the article, Guebert pointed out flaws in the way funds would be distributed in the President’s bailout plan.

I followed up Debby’s question. “Congressman, Debby just mentioned the President’s tariffs. I’d like to ask you a few questions. I can walk you out.” He did not protest, so I continued. “In an interview earlier today, you noted your concern regarding the tariffs.” He replied, “I wish we could focus on the USMCA [United States Mexico Canada Agreement]…” he said. I said “I’m not asking about the USMCA. I’m asking about the President’s trade tariffs.” Then, the good Congressman gave me a gift. He uttered the line he had given to a reporter in an interview just hours before, the line I had hoped he would repeat to me: “I’m very concerned about tariffs, I hope the President changes his mind, we just have to wait and see.”

Sweet lord, I was born for this moment. “Sir, Article 1 of the Constitution gives you the authority to block the President’s tariffs and restrict him from enacting more,” I said. “You have a constitutional obligation to check the President’s power.” Davis slowed his pace, turned toward me, his eyes narrowed. “Article 1 says many things,” he said. “Yes, it contains your job description,” I added. He began to walk away.

“Congressman, the President has promised a 16 billion dollar bailout for farmers for the China tariffs alone, how much more will the Mexico tariffs cost before you will use your constitutional authority?” At this point, Davis was about to reach his car, and his staffer interceded. “The Congressman can’t reply, he has to go.”

Then, I asked, “How are you going to pay for that, Congressman?” He stopped at his car, sneering, and looked up at me slowly. “Thanks for your time,” I said, and walked away.

Fear & Loathing

Katie and Jeff were happy Davis came and that he seemed to listen. In my conversations with them, I learned they hosted Davis for the same reason we all seek him out. They believe it necessary to continue to do what they love. Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains is on a mission to feed their community really great food and to give their neighbors tools to do the same. It’s what gets them out of bed in the morning. It’s why they invited him to their farm. They are both very aware that congressional inaction on the climate crisis threatens their ability to do what they love.

In the years to come, farmers will face even more bad years. Central Illinois will experience more droughts, floods, warmer winters, earlier planting windows, and growing seasons that last longer. Today, insects consume about 10 percent of the globe’s food. That is expected to increase to 15 to 20 percent by the end of the century. Winters and springs will become more than 25 percent wetter and summers will become almost 15 percent more dry. Heat stress decreases crop yields and livestock productivity. Over time, Central Illinois is likely to have 15 to 20 more days with temperatures above 95°F than it has today. Longer growing seasons may sound like a good thing, but it also means increased growing costs and more exposure to disease and pests. To not actively seek legislative means to support farmers in his district is grossly negligent.

What would it look like for Davis to support farmers? If he chose, Davis could join the bipartisan effort to block the President’s tariffs and restrict him from enacting more — the same measures he supported just four years ago. If he chose, Davis could ensure the ERS could do their job uncensored and remain in Washington D.C. He’d find another route to connect SNAP recipients with jobs, one that doesn’t hold a child’s access to food hostage. If he chose, Davis could refuse to support a Farm Bill that cut funds from the ERS, crop insurance subsidies, and SNAP programs.

He won’t. From what I can see, Rodney Davis takes his cues from Perdue. The USDA is subject to more partisan pressure than ever before. For him to acknowledge most farmers are scraping by is to admit President Trump is failing a key constituency. In short, Davis, Perdue, and Trump have hit the “mute” button on the farmers that most need help because it is politically expedient. “His farmers” are the corporate farms and industry lobbyists. Instead, he will obstruct the agenda the Democrats put forward, regardless of what it contains, and whine on Twitter when they won’t accept his poison pill amendments. He will swallow Trump’s proposed cuts to crop insurance subsidies. Instead of fulfilling his constitutional obligations, he will quietly pass the check for $30 billion in farmer bailouts on to consumers, all the while knowing that much of the bailout money won’t reach the hands that need it most.

I found Rodney Davis to be neither indifferent nor misled. I found him to be negligent. He is in breach of his duty. His intent doesn’t matter. He knows the power of his office, he’s seen the consequences of congressional inaction on climate change first hand, and it doesn’t change the way he votes or advises his colleagues. The 13th Congressional District continues to pay for Davis’ negligence in anxiety, physical pain, time apart from family, and wasted taxpayer dollars.

I admit the sight of our faded “Unseat Rodney Davis” magnets stings more after my visit to Funks Grove. For me, it helps to understand these feelings of fear and loathing in context. It is what John Adams described in April 1777. “I am wearied out,” he wrote, by “the gloomy Cowardice of the Times.” To be “more sick and more ashamed of my own Countrymen, than ever I was before.” It is to see with clarity “what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country could have been,” as Hunter S. Thompson described in 1972, and to look onward as men hustle and squander away that promise. To love your community as Katie and Jeff do, to witness in intimate detail the harm inflicted on your community by senseless decisions, and to know that sickening feeling of powerlessness when those in power fail to act on their duty.

We can learn something from Funks Grove Heritage Fruits & Grains. Katie and Jeff know full well that the hardest years of climate change are coming. Instead of selling out, they adapt. They’ve diversified what their farm grows and offers so they are less reliant on corn and soybeans. They carefully invest the resources available to them through farming practices, such as agroforestry, and they spread that knowledge throughout their community. They make decisions not just in the anxiety of the moment, they plan so the next decade will be better. And when the opportunity presented itself, they gave Congressman Rodney Davis a tour of their farm.

That’s what it means to be an American in this foul year of Our Lord, Twenty-Nineteen. We look the despair square in the eyes, then we adapt. We check in on our farmers. We call Davis’ congressional offices. We hold him accountable for the censorship of USDA research. We hold him accountable for how he treats low and middle income farmers. We ask for specific steps he will take on the House Agriculture Committee to promote conservation, to build safety nets for Illinois farmers, and to alleviate rural poverty.

To not would be a breach of our duty.

Photos by Emily Rodriguez

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