(from southern foodways alliance's gravy quarterly, summer 2016)
By Julian Rankin
The neighbor jerked the wheel and pulled to the side of the dirt road to watch. He left his door open and scrambled onto the hood of his car to get a better look at the farmer, Ed Scott Jr., who was standing about a hundred yards off on a bluff of freshly exposed clay in what had recently been a soybean field. Scott was looking down at six feet of absent earth that stretched for acres. From a distance, it appeared to the neighbor as if Scott was staring into a crater left by a meteor. Even atop the hood of the car, the neighbor couldn’t see what was down there. He saw Scott wave his hands and whistle. He heard an engine roar and saw smoke billow. From the neighbor’s vantage point, it looked like the smoke came spewing directly from the earth. This optical illusion only heightened the magic. Scott is speaking to the ground, the neighbor chuckled to himself. And it’s doing as he says.
Ed Scott didn’t benefit from a safety net. If his crops failed, he failed. Born in 1922, he lived through the transition from farming by mule and man to the modern agricultural age of combines, laser-precise machinery, and integrated irrigation. Even with new technologies and massive United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) subsidies, well-equipped farmers like Scott earned frighteningly narrow profit margins. Most scraped by on grit and guts and trial-and-error lessons...
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