Still standing near the four-way stop in the community where I live is Versailles Grocery, vacant, with rusting RC signs and a reminder of a day when the news came from a stop at the store rather than a click on a channel. The old store building was in need of repair and a cousin of mine along with his family members recently gave it a new look for the community’s sake. I stopped by the other Saturday as they were putting on a new back door and walked through the old friend’s interior and could almost hear the area farmers gathered to feed hungry hay hauling crews and discuss the latest weather conditions.
I grew up in that old store and received some valuable education like how to appreciate people different than I was, respect my elders, take time to enjoy the fun things of life and realize that peanuts in a cold drink is the grandest treat known to man - at least in Versailles. Today, that old grocery is nothing but an empty building, located at a crossroads and a four-way stop. The days of its existence are only a memory to those who shopped there. Much like in other small rural communities across this state, the country store has given way to the large city supermarkets and the stop-and-go gas stations. The country stores that many of us have fond memories of from our childhood are rapidly going the way of many things in rural Tennessee. There are still a few scattered across the state that resemble the stores we grew up with, but most are standing vacant with rusting feed signs and bread company screen doors hanging from one hinge. I appreciate my kin taking time to at least preserve the outer shell of what made me who I am.
Back when we used that store, my parents got by with a whole lot less than those who shop in today’s large markets due to us living on a farm and growing much of what we ate. I can remember going in with a list and handing it to Miss Ruth who gathered everything up, placing each item in a paper bag. Usually she wrote us up a ticket in the charge book that we paid at the end of the month when the milk check came from the Carnation plant where we sold our milk.
Today, I have become just like everyone else, removed from those days of Miss Ruth’s store. We have all become spoiled and demanding consumers who are use to the many selections and items available in today’s modern supermarkets. Not only do we enjoy more selections, but we also enjoy using less of our income for food. In 1960, the average American used 18 percent of their income on food for their families. Today’s modern family uses less than 10 percent of their income for food. That’s a major change in disposable income that the majority of us take for granted, but really shouldn’t. The reason our food doesn’t cost us most of our paycheck is due to the American and Tennessee farmer. They have become more efficient and produce the safest and least expensive farm commodity in the world.
All of us are aware that farmland and farmers are becoming less and less each day. From 2007 to 2010, 1,331,200 acres of agricultural land was converted and developed nationally, and in the state of Tennessee we have been losing more than 65 acres of farmland per day. The average size of a farm in our state is approximately 142 acres. That means every two and a half days in Tennessee a farm goes under a parking lot or housing development. Sort of scary isn't it?
During that same period it also means Tennessee has fewer farmers. That’s folks doing something else other than providing our food and fiber. If a factory closes with people losing their jobs, every TV station in America will report the story. However, our only concern has been if the price of a gallon of milk goes up a few cents or if the wheat whey is safe in our dog food.
Automobiles can go up $2,500 in price and we only want to know if they have it in our favorite color. Milk goes up and we start drinking water from a plastic bottle.
It’s time we thank the Tennessee farmer for providing us a great deal at the supermarket. They do a good job. Each and every day the number continues to decline, but they are very efficient in what they do. Let’s hope this year will be a good one for Tennessee's farmers and the final harvest for them will look real good.
Some say it may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a farmer to feed one.
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com