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Closing rural post offices makes no sense Print
Guest column
Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

Rural life is a daily challenge to survive on most days; we citizens blessed enough to live in the beauty of the country often are too busy trying to get by to really enjoy all the scenic views of the rural landscape.

At this very moment I am looking at the tree-line between my property and the old Gilbertson Farm west of our home and billowing out in huge clouds of white smoke are the fiery fingers of flames that are consuming my neighbor’s cow barn.

Busy farmers, carpenters, store clerks, and other small business proprietors have covered their usual work attire with the bright yellow coats of the community volunteer fire department and are racing to the smoke in whatever vehicles they were near and were available when the local alarm was sounded. I have seen the New Glarus tanker truck, the Albany EMS, and the entire Monticello Fire Department and all their equipment.

Challenges of farming

In the midst of a growing season that has seen three counties of corn and wheat blown sideways just several weeks ago, unbearable heat and humidity in the midst of cutting and bringing in the second hay crop, and the sad look of cattle unable to escape the great discomfort that the urban television news-casters have warned city folk to stay inside and avoid exercise in the high temperature and equally high humidity, the work of farmers in their fields goes on.

I wonder how many urban people ever consider the great challenges of providing them their daily bread or have a concern or thought about the farming folk who work outdoors to grow the nation’s food everyday, in all weather conditions. And the additional fact that farming is still considered one of the three most hazardous vocations there is, after soldiers and coal miners.

Little time to mourn or complain

My neighbor will get up early tomorrow and begin to rebuild his farming operation. There is little time to mourn or complain for there is simply too much to do.

You will often hear a comment at Gemplers, the small local grocery store such as, “God gives and God takes away” and little whining will ever be heard. Simply there is an understanding that there are days of bounty and days of famine, but we always still have our family and friends and the love of the Almighty Creator.

Loss of rural post offices

And in the midst of absorbing loss and difficulties, rural communities have been alerted they could lose the rural community post office sometime next year.

The federal government, in its typical omnipotent confusion, has decided to attempt to lower their operating expenses by closing down the post offices across many rural areas.

They have wrongly assumed that rural folks can pay their bills by computer and the internet, since most of us don’t have internet access with “the grid” typically stopping just outside the urban corridors. We also have very limited cell phone usage due to lack of cell towers and the cell provider’s lack of investment in many rural regions.

Rural people and farming communities have watched hardware stores close, churches shuttered, local banks bought by huge financial entities that lack the understanding (or compassion and good neighborly concern) necessary to finance farming operations, implement companies consolidating and moving out, shrinking health care services, no daycare services or senior and aging services, and yet the farmers keep climbing onto their tractors every morning and go out for another long day to grow the nation’s food.

Raise a ruckus

Rural citizens have been downsized, marginalized, and disenfranchised. Before the whole system of services and support dries up and blows away, we need to begin to raise a ruckus and let the urban-decision makers know we are still out here, and they should be extremely grateful for the unbelievable endurance of the rural working people, for without that endurance alone the urban population would starve in short order.

So with limited phone services, no internet connectivity, and very limited “free time,” how do busy, struggling, under-served rural citizens pay our bills, including out taxes, speak to our government representatives or enjoy any of the simple pleasures of receiving and sending out letters and packages that Americans have become accustomed to and expect to have available?

The old food-based expression “penny wise and pound foolish” seems to fit this predicament quite aptly — making life even more difficult for the one percent minority of farmers and food producers who grow all the food for the nation’s other 99 percent and a fair slice of the world’s population. It makes little sense and seems counter productive to increasing the production of food crops.

It is tantalizing to consider if urban-based political decision-makers can disregard small farming communities across the fruited plain by withholding access to communication services, what if the food producers withheld from the urban markets their work of human hands-food? I truly believe the farmers would win that contest within 72 hours.

Another old food-based maxim should be attentively considered by our decision-makers, “Know which side your bread is buttered on.” The disenfranchised farming people can honestly answer back, “without the wheat (we grow) or the butter (we milk for) you won’t have to worry about which side of nothing you spread your nothing on.”

Tom Nelson is coordinator of the Rural Life Office of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Madison.