Monday, July 23, 2007

Curt Flood/ Stealing/Farming

(P1) Philosophical


by Jonah Raskin Chairman of the communication studies department at Sonoma State University -- (not to mention "Poet Extraordinaire)

The author Alice Walker, who has lived much of her life in Northern California, and written some of her best work here, has been known to say, ``Horses make a landscape more beautiful.'' I can see her point of view in the fields near my Santa Rosa home where horses lend their beauty to fields where they roam freely. For me, however, it is not so much horses as farmers and farm workers who add an aesthetic dimension to the landscape, though I know that's usually not their main intention. They work on farms, of course, to make money, feed and house themselves, and their children, and not to create a picture pleasing to the eye. Still, whenever I gaze at Valley End Farm, probably the largest certified organic farm in Sonoma County, on Petaluma Hill Road, I see it as an oil painting by a 19th-century French impressionist painter. The soft, gentle mountains rise in the background, a white house nestles under an oak tree, and the furrowed fields unfold on either side of an unpaved driveway that divides them into two nearly equal parts. I have worked in these fields out of a sense of curiosity, and with an appreciation of beauty, too. I know that a sense of beauty infuses the way the farm workers look at the farm, and I have seen that they cannot help but make the rows and rows of tomatoes, squash, onion and garlic into a thing far more attractive to my eye than the sprawling tract houses that threaten its survival, and the survival of farms like it. Recently, I worked with Leno, the Mexican-born foreman who speaks excellent English and who dreams of owning his own farm in California one day. When he's off the farm, I have worked with his wife Malu, as hard a tiller of the soil as he, and her 60-year-old father who has worked on farms nearly his whole life, but who has never owned one, and probably never will. Leno and Malu, and the other farm workers, labor at Valley End because agriculture is what they know how to do, and because they like to work with their hands, in the outdoors, planting and weeding, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. these days, and sometimes until 7 p.m. when crops have to be harvested. ``It's beautiful here, isn't it,'' Malu's father said to me on a June afternoon, as we stood in the hot sun, weeding around the tomato plants -- nearly 75,000 of them -- whose fruit Clint Grossi, who runs the farm with his mother Sharon, will sell at their farm stand along the side of the road at the height of summer. Many local residents, and tourists, too, stop here because they want locally grown, organic vegetables, and because they see the farm as a thing of beauty to which they want a connection. Indeed, increasingly this farm, and others in Northern California, have become locales that provide suburbanites with a sense of roots, and a sense of meaning in a world that feels more and more dislocated and chaotic. They know that the human species cannot live without beauty, and that living farms, where men and women grow beautiful, healthy crops, provide an aesthetic sense that gives them pleasure. So, when I stand in the fields, with a hoe in my hands, I occasionally pause and peer at the traffic on Petaluma Hill Road that looks, in the distance, like toy cars and trucks. Will the speeding drivers gaze appreciatively at the farm as I do? I wonder. Will they see the beauty, here, and will they come to realize that farms must continue to exist here, if we are to maintain our history and our humanity? I take up the hoe again, and, if wishing would make it so, it is so.

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(P2) Political (sort of)

Curt Flood On Issues Related To Slavery

When baseball great Curt Flood challenged baseball's reserve clause in 1970-71 he gave up his expectation of a future as a major league manager. This fight was more important to Flood who regarded challenging the restriction to play for only one team as a civil rights issue. When he won, he became a hero to his peers.

The following is a short excerpt from "Why I Am Challenging Baseball" by Curt Flood in Sport

"Are we right in challenging the legality of the reserve clause? Let me answer you this way. Suppose you are an accountant. One day your boss says to you, 'Joe, we are moving you to the other coast. Now don't worry. We'll pay your expenses, you'll get the same salary you're getting here, and maybe more.'

"'But I don't want to go 3,000 miles away from my family and friends,' you say. 'I don't want to tear up roots.'

"'Of course you can quit and get another job,' your boss says. 'But we've got this reserve clause in your contract, you know. You can't work ever again as an accountant if you quit working for us.'

"'But accounting is the only business I know,' you say.

"'Sorry,' says your boss.

"What would you do? As an accountant and as a man? You know what I am doing. Maybe now you can understand why I feel I have to do it—as a ballplayer and as a man."

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(P3) Poetical

The Base Stealer
by Robert Francis

Poised between going on and back, pulled
Both ways taut like a tightrope-walker,
Fingertips pointing the opposites,
Now bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball
Or a kid skipping rope, come on, come on,
Running a scattering of steps sidewise,
How he teeters, skitters, tingles, teases,
Taunts them, hovers like an ecstatic bird,
He's only flirting, crowd him, crowd him,
Delicate, delicate, delicate, delicate


J. Raskin said...

Ed -
Thanks for offering this to your readers. See you soon,


Duncan said...

What an idyllic life, Sonoma County, CA farming. For one raised in the rural Midwest, this posting brought a chuckle. In the 1940's and '50's, farmers in my home county, most of Germanic descent but not all, worked from sunup to sundown, not 7:00 to 7:00. When farm equipment became available with lights, they didn't stop until the job was done.

This work went on seven days a week, although a few would take a couple of hours on Sunday for church.

The farmers I knew did not plant thier crops to create an artistic landscape, but rather to maximize the use of the land to produce the most product per square foot. If one sees that as art, so be it.

I my home county along the Missouri River, there were no migrant or immigrant workers to work the land (although many of the owner/famers themselves were second generation immigrants), till the soil, harvest the crops. It was the farmer and his family and perhaps at peak times a few hired high school kids. Neighbors would share, too. One week it was all to the Bradsick's to get in the hay. The next week it would be over to the Beckmeyers.

The Vollenweiders had a huge apple orchard to the East of town. Their big, white farmhouse on a hill set back from the highway as if waiting for that oil painting. I worked in the orchard one summer and I cannot call the work idyllic. As a 14-year-old, I thought it to be barbaric. The Vollenweiders had two beautiful daughters and any pain and suffering was worth one quick glance of those blonde haired goddesses. I worked there with the appreciation only of the beauty of those girls and the sense of a few dollars spending money.

Today, the farmhouse is gone, burned to the ground. The orchard is a mere shadow of its previous splendor. No more juicy Red Delicious and sweet, cold cider in September. No more blonde beauties. Susie and Lucy are long gone to parts unknown.

If those farmers of my home and of my youth could have hired workers for pennies a day (adjusting for inflation that's what the Leno's and Malu's of today would have earned. I made about 50 cents an hour), they would have prospered much more than they did. But they didn't and they toiled endlessly to put thier kids through school in hopes they could find occupations that didn't call for back breaking work and financial suspense from year to year.

Of all the farm kids I was raised with, not one that I remember ever saw farming as idyllic. And, to my knowledge, not one returned to the farm to take over the work of his/her parents.

The landscape of the county looks much the same today as it did 50 years ago. The farming however has changed dramatically. Few individual famers are left to work thier own land. The corporate farm has taken over and "custom farmers" have taken over the work once done by the families of the hard working owners.

Workers from other countries, some documented and perhaps some not, carry on the work once done by my classmates, Donnie Englebrecht, Ron Lichte, Tom Ainsworth, Ken Telgemeier...

I don't know, but it didn't seem idyllic then and it doesn't today. The landscape is still beautiful, but you know what they say about beauty and what you see on the surface.

I, in my incurable pessimism, believe that the Valley End Farm will last only until a land developer makes an offer that can't be refused. Then, the tomato plants will be plowed under for more houses that all look alike and the only painters interested will be those that spray their media with air powered guns.