Back on his words

"Agriculture is responsible for one out of every 12 jobs in our economy. The folks who work here, the [United Auto Workers] machinist folks who I met with earlier, they can tell you the work in this plant is directly tied to how significant and strengthened the agricultural economy is.

What we do on the farm ripples through the economy and helps to create jobs, particularly when agriculture is thriving. What's more, the productivity of American farmers and ranchers helps American families stretch their paychecks."

A certain individual offered these words, quoted by the Delta Farm Press, on Oct. 25, 2011, while speaking to workers at a John Deere plant in Des Moines.

Then, just before the 2012 election, this time speaking at the Democratic National Convention, the same man exclaimed, "You know, rural Americans are a special people. Their labor puts food on our table and fuel in our gas tanks. Their service in our military sets a powerful example of leadership, honor and sacrifice. Their spirit of community inspires us all."

He went on to point out proudly that our president is from a farm state, which seems a tad silly considering that he hails from Chicago (among other places), and went on to brag about government dedication to promoting rural America's interests.

Sure sounded good and it made sense, too. After all, rural land takes up a lot more space than that under cities. In fact, agricultural use alone accounts for 51 percent of the nation's land base. Farm real estate is worth $1.85 trillion dollars.

As the man pointed out, most of our food is produced there, along with a significant percentage of fuel for our cars, and fiber for our suits and ties. We also use rural areas as a large and beloved playground. Not too many national or state parks and refuges in our coastal or central cities, after all.

However, now that his party is firmly entrenched in office for another four years, he is chanting a very different mantra. Last week at a Farm Journal forum, speaking about the Farm Bill and rural America, the same man said, "It's the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it."

The speaker slammed farmers for daring to fight back against specific proposed regulations, including recently proposed and later dropped rules that would have prevented farm youth from working on their own family farms. He also decried farmers for voicing fears about proposed dust regulations and shamed them for ongoing engagement with animal rights activists. (Guess he wouldn't want to read anything written here.)

The general negativity and anti-rural bias in the speech ignited a firestorm of protest in ag media across the country.

This was not too surprising considering that the gent being quoted was Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Many who heard of this speech were shocked at his change in tone and attitude toward rural issues. Farmers in particular felt dismissed and diminished by this sudden change of viewpoint.

Heck, how would it make you feel to be considered "less and less relevant to the politics of this country?" After all, Montgomery County claimed 124,566 acres in farmland in the 2007 Census of Agriculture; $73,612,000 worth of farm products were sold here that year, which seems to me to make the area pretty rural.

I think perhaps Mr. Vilsack, who formerly served as governor of Iowa, certainly a rural state itself, might look back to his own words in concluding his 2011 speech, "It's been a long time coming, but rural America's making a comeback..." Maybe he should consider his other speech and do a take back.

It is not unprecedented for representatives of the federal government to get things wrong. Take for example recent draconian changes to requirements for school lunch menus. In the interests of slimming down America's children that same organization headed by Mr. Vilsack set limits on what could be served for lunch in cafeterias across America. Compliance with the new rules was tied to resources for school by Congress.

The whole arrangement went over like a brick. Schools everywhere saw huge declines in the number of lunches sold and massive increases in discarded food. Gloversville Enlarged School District spokesperson Teal Carpenter was recently quoted: "The hardest part this year was complying with the regulations in grade school where we can't give them a sandwich with two slices of bread every day."

Hard to imagine a sandwich with only one slice of bread. According to the History of Sandwiches, "The first recorded sandwich was by the famous rabbi, Hillel the Elder, who lived during the first century B.C. He started the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices and wine between two matzohs to eat with bitter herbs."

Note that he used two matzohs.

Humans went on enjoying the concept of heaping various fillers between assorted kinds of bread and biscuit until the first written mention of the term "sandwich" in a travel book by Grosley, which occurred in 1762. Legend has it that the Earl of Sandwich was either such an inveterate gambler that he wouldn't leave the tables to eat, or maybe he was just busy at his desk, but he ordered "but a bit of beef, between two slices of toasted bread," and consumed it out of hand.

Either way, sandwiches have been popular for ages and generally involve not one but two slices of bread.

Thus I am sure it was welcome when this week the USDA announced that it is, for the moment at least, suspending daily and weekly limits on the amount of grains and meat allowed in school children's lunches. I imagine this will be met with joy by providers of those lunches, as they return to making sandwiches with the traditional fixin's. I'll bet the kids will be glad, too.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs