Skip to comments.A Trip Down Possumtrot Road
Posted on 10/21/2003 1:54:50 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
Last week I drove down Possumtrot Road, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's in Yancey County, one of the most rural and least populated of North Carolina's 100 counties. Possumtrot Road is at an altitude of about 2,800 feet, but it is lined on both sides with rich bottom land. Much of that land lies fallow; many of the barns are falling to wrack and ruin. And thereon hangs a tale.
First, a touch of geology. The Blue Ridge is the southern section of the Appalachian Chain, formed about 250 million years ago when the tectonic plate that is now the Eastern Seaboard collided with another plate that is most of the rest of North America. When formed, these mountains were as high as the Rockies. But hundreds of millions of years of rain and snow and the encroachment of plants has reduced them to a maximum of 6,100 feet in altitude. And that has filled every one of the valleys with deep, rich, good soil; as the locals say, You could stick a ruler in the ground and it would sprout.
Couple that fertile soil with a relatively mild climate (given the altitude) and an annual rainfall that is slightly less than the 90 inches per year which is the minimum to define a tropical rain forest. The fields along Possumtrot Road ought to be burgeoning with crops in Summer and Fall; the barns should all be full in the Winter. Yet some are not. Why not?
Farms like these are quite different from the industrial farms of the Midwest. The high volume crops like wheat and corn make no sense here. The huge combines used to bring in such crops could never make it down the hairpin turns of Possumtrot Road. And if you could even get a combine into one of these fields, you could never turn it around. No, farms like these engage in truck farming. Low-volume, high-labor, high-value crops like tobacco, cabbage, beans and the like, are grown here.
The farmers of Yancey County are smarter than the Congress of the United States, as one quick example will establish. The farmers are smart enough to figure out when it costs more to get the crops in the ground, grow them, and bring them to market, than they will realize from the sale of those crops. Faced with that situation which threatens their livelihoods, the welfare of their families, and even their possession of their lands, they cut back in their crops, and go to subsistence farming food for the family, and fodder for the livestock, a few pigs and cows, which also provide food for the family. As any businessman knows, and farmers are businessmen, in hard times the least you can do is minimize your losses.
Speaking of losses, Congress is in charge of the Social Security system. It is the financial equivalent of a huge but failing farm. There are quarrels about exactly when the current operation of Social Security will drive it into abject failure, but there is no doubt that time is steadily approaching. Year by year, the financial crop from Social Security is less and less able to sustain it for the future. And yet, year by year and unlike the farmer of Yancey County Congress plants the same crop, gets the same results, and does effectively nothing to cut the losses or change their behavior.
Everyone with any familiarity with rural communities knows what the farm families do to try to save their land, when times are tough. One or more of the adults gets a job in town to help ends meet, and pull the family through rough times. What are the options for that in Yancey County today?
On the way to Possumtrot Road, I passed a relatively new factory of a major international corporation. The chain link fence went not just around the perimeter of the property, but right across the access roads. There were no lights on and no cars in the parking lot. I won't mention the well-known name on that plant, because businesses take their names off their buildings when all is lost and they are abandoning that location. When their name is still up, presumably they are still trying. So I will cut them some slack. Suffice to say, it is a nationally recognized apparel manufacturer.
The single industry in North Carolina that has taken the greatest hit in the last generation is textiles. Many of the plants that manufacture textiles and many that produce clothing are shuttered all across the state. The world's largest manufacturer of denim, Cone Mills Corp., announced its bankruptcy two weeks ago in North Carolina, responding in part to the decision of Levi Strauss, which is based in California, to move all of its manufacturing operations out of the United States.
The unemployment rate in Yancey County is 14.0%. The option of members of farming families to get a job in town to help save the farm is closing down as manufacturing jobs are bleeding overseas, at the same time that foreign competition against agricultural products continues to grow. It's a double whammy.
Perhaps more than members of any other occupation, farmers know how to identify and work within given conditions. Soil, weather, the growth characteristics of crops and livestock all these are givens that farmers since time immemorial have learned to deal with. But today there's a new set of givens. There are policies set in the board rooms of the giant agribusinesses, and of the giant international manufacturing firms, and in the halls of Congress, which are filled with bottom line people. For these people, if a penny more can be earned per dollar by moving jobs overseas, by buying agricultural products overseas, then that's the decision.
There is no room in these bottom line decisions for the lives lost as farmers die of despair, or sometimes even of suicide. There is no room for the loss of family farms, the breakup of families as the younger generation can no longer stay where they grew up. There is no room for a value to be placed on the need for willing and hard-working Americans to support themselves, their families, and their communities.
For sure, the products are still here. The supermarkets are filled with fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry wherever they might come from. The giant discount stores are filled with clothes and other products, more and more of them bearing names of origins other than the United States.
Policies on international trade, policies on the strength of the American dollar, policies on borrowing and spending by the federal government all these have become givens for the farmers along Possumtrot Road in Yancey County. And these farmers have no defense, no preparation against, the inexorable bleeding of their part of the American economy that flows from these policies.
Why did I take this trip down Possumtrot Road? It was part of my preparations to run for Congress from the 11th District of North Carolina. I'll skip for now any other mention of my efforts. Suffice to say, the only way to really know a subject is on the ground, up close and personal. That's why I headed my 12-year old Jeep north and east to Yancey County last week.
You who are reading this, even if you're in the heart of any of America's largest cities, are no more than hour away from your own Possumtrot Road. It's in one of the hundreds of thousands of small communities that dot the landscape of rural America. It's the kind of place that has only a single sign you might well not notice as you fly past an interstate exit at 65 miles per hour. It's on the blue line highways of America, in places that you'll never see unless you deliberately choose to go there. But it is real and it is important, as real and as important to America as the high rise apartment you might live in or the high rise building you might work in.
I urge you to choose such a destination, go there, and see what you will see. It just might give you a whole new perspective on the national and international policies of the federal government. If at all possible, I hope you will make your own trip into the Blue Ridge. It's breathtaking in the late Fall when the beech trees are a translucent yellow, the maples and oaks turn deep orange and brown, and the sumacs add a dominant red.
Robert Frost got it right in his poem, The Road Not Taken, in 1920.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
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About the Author: John Armor is an author and columnist on politics and history. He currently has an Exploratory Committee to run for Congress.
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P.S. If your legislative talents are even a fraction of you're writing and legal abilities, you'll be the finest legislator we've ever seen.
One of the things my wife and I cite when we're asked about being still married the fact that we're both the sort of folks who, during any given journey, will say "I wonder where that road goes?" and then go that way just to find out.
This line reminds me of my childhood working on a towboat, clack-clacking up the Tennesee River, it truly was a sight to remember. Of all the rivers we worked we were all in agreement this was the most beautiful, with the Hickory, and other hardwoods turning to the colors of fall.
Gliding through the Shiloh Battle Ground park was an experience I will always remember. To heck with Europe I want to see America before I die! There is so much out there if one takes the time.
We stopped to get sodas and crackers at a quick mart at Toxaway Dam, that's halfway between the Airport and my home. As we walked in the store, it was crowded with "local people" dressed in usual fashion. Then I noticed that these "locals" were wearing buckskin boots or shoes, and some of them were carrying flintlock rifles. We were surrounded by the extras from The Last of the Mohicans who were taking a break from shooting a scene on the bluffs above the Toxaway River.
There's actually a fairly active film industry in Western Carolina. And one documentary broadcast on Georgia Public Television was shot outside and inside my home. It was From my Grandmother's Grandmother to Me.
You're right. It is beautiful territory in these parts.
John / Billybob
One does well to leave ones own 'culture' and go to another ... and ask for directions .... even if you know where you're going.
Excellent observation CB.
My children grew up working on surrounding farms in the summers and although they're now college graduates and in tech jobs, they have the highest respect for farmers, for they (kids) learned first hand the amount of work that goes into producing that good food they eat.)
My posts are usually filled with typos, so I understood who you were replying to.
I have enjoyed reading Congressman Billybob's posts for a number of years, I only regret that I do not live in his state and cannot vote for him.
From what I can tell about the man, he has a deep love for this country, for the freedoms that our ancestors fought for, and for the protection of those freedoms. I've never met him personally, but he strikes me as a man pained by the attacks on those freedoms, whether they be from liberals or conservatives.
He strikes me a man who shares the vision of the founding fathers, and cherishes his family, his home and country, his spiritual beliefs, and his friends. He has a passion for true freedom and seems to revel in the majesties of the outdoors, the scenic vistas undespoiled, the beauty of nature and the land in which he is blessed to live. To me, anyone that he calls friend or neighbor is blessed.
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