In Kenya, it is a cultural tradition that the father in charge of family farm will one day divide his land equally among his sons. In the United States, we identify with and support the concept of a family farm. The statement, “This land has been in the family for generations” strikes a sympathetic chord in most of us. Since the first human couple, home has always been more than a structure to sleep in — whether igloo, yurt, tepee or log cabin. It was the land that supported the family and the bison, cows or corn.
Today, the land, our earth, still manages to support us despite our increasingly nefarious ways of trying to keep it from doing so. The connection between a wind-blown wheat field and the supermarket’s fluffy, cream-colored “wheat” bread, or between chickens and a can of cold remedy soup, becomes increasingly hazy, especially for our TV-infatuated youth who are cleverly taught by advertisers that the only connections worth remembering are those which taste great, make you feel good and are microwave-compatible. Land has become little more than a financial commodity to be bought or sold, developed and dumped upon, lifeless and without intrinsic value.
For pockets of Americans, there is still a tenacious love affair with the wild landscape and an understanding that the true wealth of a piece of land is considered by what it is worth spiritually. Land should never have been tied up with banks and intertwined with market values. To watch an agonized family lose their prairie farm to the auctioneering block because of foreclosure by the “community-minded” savings and loan, is to know for certain that land is home and represents deeply held feelings and values as important as life itself. Twenty years ago there were five million family farms greening our nation’s landscape; today there are two million and the prediction is another one million farms will vanish by the turn of the century. Heartland takes on more than one meaning.