Even before they developed agriculture, human beings composed and performed songs. Music is the perfect accompaniment to raw trial mix for a weary hunter gatherer, and later comforted the back sore cultivator. In his provocative book Deep Economy, The Wealth of Communities and The Durable Future, Bill McKibben describes music and its relationship to agriculture, "… in 1900, in the state of Iowa alone, which was then crowded with small farmers, there were also thirteen hundred local opera houses, all of them hosting concerts." Similarities with what has happened to food and music, he points out, are found throughout modern life and have a severe destructive effect on the "happiness quotient" society now experiences.
The influence of government and a veritable army of economists have declared the small farm to be a relic of the past as farmers are told to "big or get out." But big farms, like big radio, lack soul . "Consolidation," the watchword for most our collective adulthood (Clear Channel, Wal-Mart, Cargill come to mind as apropos) are now being given a run for our souls, if not our money, by local institutions springing up, like farmers markets or the quintessential ‘local’ radio station (which we don’t really have anymore, but McKibben thinks they are just around the corner again). The advantages of "local" are touted by some bestselling insightful authors, mostly writing about food and the ecology, but it turns out, by an astonishing act of fate, that music is right in there with the rest of what makes a culture tick. It is no accident that most farmers’ markets feature live music, sometimes jazz, sometimes folk, sometimes a mix, but the market managers seek to find the balance that reflects their market.
You can’t get any more local than pulling your own fiddle out of its case and drawing a bow across the strings for your own enjoyment. Even if it isn’t perfect, there is a joy, a sense of life in that mere action that isn’t present in listening to a recording of someone else play the same thing, no matter how perfectly. Like the man who cuts his own wood, there is a twice warmed soul in home made music. Gardeners know the same is true for food.
An accounting is coming: food prices are already on the rise. Reports indicate that the price of food in supermarkets has more to do with the price of diesel than any other factor. Food brought in from a distance is expected to be continually more expensive. Food relying on corn as its basis is going to get even higher in price faster as more corn is diverted for fuel. This is but the tip of the zucchini – the world’s oil supply is limited. It helps to remember that vegetables can be grown with a lot less water than lawn. The weight of economics is on the side of growing as much of your own food as you can, or at least making friends with a local gardener!
We may never get away from whoever the current industry-hyped pop star is and we may never completely leave the supermarket behind, but every little bit we can do to support our own creativity and to nourish ourselves on all levels is a good thing. With that, we feed our soul and honor the culture of who we are. When faced with challenges, creatively the solutions often leave us better off than we were before. The current crises could be local music’s big break.
Rosin that bow up as soon as you get the tomatoes planted.
Grandson of a Great Plains farmer, David King is the Garden Master at the Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School. He shares his love of the land and music through teaching, writing and playing in a folk/country band. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.