The Indiana State Fair has gotten more than its share of free publicity this past week, so for me to add my two cents' worth of hype (yes, that's exactly how much my endorsement goes for these days) verges on overkill.
Yet, there's something so timeless and wonderful about it that it merits extra attention, if for no other reason than most of the mainstream media coverage of it misses the point.
It's not just that the fair offers all kinds of bizarre, expensive, fried foods – which it certainly does – or that going there drains your wallet quite quickly, which is also true.
The value of the fair, it seems to me, is that it is the one occasion each year when urban residents get to interact and co-mingle with our rural neighbors, farmers who don't make it to Indianapolis that often and are mistrustful of it when they do.
We tend to take the food we eat for granted. We go to McDonald's, we fill our cart at the grocery store and we don't think too much about it. It's food, we buy it, we eat it, and our connection to it is minimal other than in a financial sense.
But the State Fair gives us a chance to talk with the hardworking men, women and children whose effort gives us those fresh tomatoes, corn and beef on our dinner table. And their relationship with the food they grow, and the land they hold stewardship over, is very different than yours and mine.
Of course, things are far different than they were a century, or even 50 years ago, on the family farms of Indiana. Technology and the growth of monopolistic agri-business companies have made the experience radically different.
But the overall experience is the same. They work hard, far harder than most of us are willing to do, and yield satisfaction from a job well done, even if the obstacles before them are formidable.
Just as Republican deregulation has killed Main Street America over the past 30 years, leading to the death of small business and the creation of mega-corporations too big to fail, it's eliminated competition and diversity of choice in agriculture.
You can't grow corn or soybeans in Indiana without doing business with the Monsanto Corp., a multinational with more than 90 percent market share in the seed business. And you can't buy their seed without signing an exclusivity deal preventing you from storing or saving unused seed.
And since Monsanto's seed is genetically modified to make it resistant to Roundup herbicide – also sold by Monsanto – you can't easily grow non-mutated corn or beans in Indiana very easily either.
As written about at length over in the news pages of NUVO, Monsanto is also a very aggressively litigious company, taking Hoosier farmers to court over real or alleged violations of the copyrights and patents they hold on the seed, herbicide and animal growth hormones they peddle.
If we working-class, white-collar employees are in a sense slaves to the companies we work for, our farmers are no less in servitude to Monsanto and the other large agricultural businesses. In this we share kinship.
Do you feel like you've been working harder the past few years, only to see little to no increase in your paycheck? Welcome to the world of Hoosier farmers, where generations of family tradition are under siege from Monsanto, often barely breaking even.
Not only are the big seed companies literally playing God with their genetically-modified agricultural products, they're subjecting us to a game of Russian roulette by introducing these new products.
It's a scary prospect – famine on a massive scale when the new seeds fail; the collapse of agriculture; billions of people at risk. But the Hoosier farmer wakes up to this each and every day.
There are a few things we can do to help. There's no reason to not buy locally-produced vegetables. Indiana-raised honey is cheap and abundant. Purchase fewer products with high-fructose corn syrup, which ruins your health.
These will help a little bit, but there's more we can do. Pressure the federal government to fully enforce antitrust laws against Monsanto and other such companies. Insist on a farm bill that allows our family farms to exist in dignity.
And, maybe, if you're at the State Fair and you see a hardworking Indiana farm family enjoying the rides, exhibits and attractions at the fair, take a few seconds out of your day to thank them for their service to us and the countless numbers of people worldwide who depend on their products.
Just like you, they're fighting to survive in the aftermath of the Bush Depression. They are separated from us only in distance. They are your brothers and sisters in oppression. Tell them you appreciate them and will stand behind them in the difficult years to come.