So Rich He Never Gets Dirty Hands; Yet So Poor He's Forced To Shop At Wal-Mart

10 04 2008

Scott Richert kicks off a review (Of the Soul and the Soil) of three agrarian books by retelling the conversation he had with the neighbor that’s both rich and poor at the same time:

About a year after we moved to Rockford, Illinois, my wife and I were working in our freshly dug garden as our neighbor, roughly the same age as I (28, at the time), was chatting with us over our back fence. He watched as I prepared the soil in our raised beds and then carefully placed a plant in the center of each one-foot square. Finally, he inquired, “What kind of plants are those?”

“They’re tomatoes,” I replied, a little surprised that he couldn’t identify them, even as seedlings.

“Cool,” he responded. “Now, will those come back up each year, like bulbs?”

The conversation soon changed to other topics, but my neighbor was still fascinated by the tomato plants. “Did you buy those at Wal-Mart?” he asked. I gently explained that we don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and then it was his turn to be surprised: “Really? We couldn’t afford not to.”

Now, I firmly believe that my neighbor thought that he was telling the truth. Still, he was a lawyer; his wife was a paralegal; and they had no children. I was working for a non-profit; we had two children; and my wife was staying at home, rearing them. One of us had considerably more money than the other, and I’ll leave it to the reader to guess which one.

I also firmly believe that the two parts of our conversation were intimately related: My neighbor’s lack of knowledge about one of that staple plants of backyard gardening (let alone agriculture) went hand-in-hand with his inability to recognize that he could, indeed, afford to shop somewhere other than Wal-Mart. And both stemmed from the all-too-common loss, in the modern world, of our connection with two of the most important things that make us human: nature and community.

Here’s another guy that reminds me of Scott’s neighbor. He’s worried about peak-oil, bought three chickens, canned food, and a yogurt-maker from Williams-Sonoma.

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