Vigliotti: New Year's, markets, and the importance of Carroll’s farms 

While we can make an argument that every day begins a new year in America, our marking of time from 2018 to 2019 is distinct in the changing of the year itself. We look ahead for God’s blessings, good things to come, resolutions to be kept and promises to be fulfilled. Carroll County is no different. The past several weeks have seen a number of articles from this paper, for example, elaborating on where elected leaders, boards, commissions and citizens believe we need to go, or where we are headed. Evolving technology is a common prescription for uncertain industries and fields.

Ten years ago, it was being predicted that printed, physical books would all but disappear, eclipsed by e-books and e-readers, except in niche markets. The opposite proved true. Printed books have not only survived, but sales are rebounding. While figures for 2018 have not yet been released as of this writing, figures for 2017 demonstrate a continued increase in printed book sales, and a decrease in e-book sales.


The reasons for this vary, from the sensory experience of an actual book (the smell of ink and paper, the texture, feel, and sound of pages being turned), to low prices online, to the way in which books are printed on demand rather than in massive runs, to the very romantic, sentimental appeal and idea of carrying around a printed book — and on.

It was also about a decade ago that the small, independent business was also marked for demise. How could a local bookseller compete against Barnes and Noble? Now, we ask ourselves how a brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble can compete against an internet giant like Amazon — while Amazon is opening up physical locations that are themselves a hit with customers.

Technology accounts for part of this, but not for all of this. Markets change, and the times change. Predictions can be made, but human action is not a mathematical science. How many people would have foreseen that it would be the young driving printed book sales, or that brick-and-mortar Amazon locations would be such a success — or exist at all?

Sometimes businesses evolve; and sometimes, they do not. Sometimes, markets and human action are beyond their control. Sometimes, they can take steps to sustain or grow, such as filling in a void or tapping into unique or growing markets. Consider the rise of the local microbrewery, which provides small-batch, artisan-crafted beers for consumers who sometimes prefer something other than a nationally distributed Budweiser. (Taneytown is anticipating the opening of such a microbrewery — Brewery Fire.)

In an era of renewed national pride, local is celebrated. Those people producing your beer or your sandwich or your coffee are also your friends, family, and neighbors. Carroll countians — and Americans at large — value these kinds of personal relationships, and in knowing where your beer or your coffee has come from.

And yet, there is deep concern in Carroll County for its farmers. Carroll faces a decline in dairy farms, particularly. Agricultural preservation was a significant issue during the commissioner races — and ought to remain so on the minds of all county residents.

Quick to adapt to changing times, we have learned that farmers of every variety have pursued innovative technology. An excellent piece in this paper has noted the use of everything from cell phone apps to devices which monitor soil moisture levels — but often such sophistication comes at a tremendous monetary price. As we learned further, while small farms and massive operations may get by, middle-range operations likely will not unless a way is found to ensure their survival.

There is also a concern for farming in general as well. Rural areas develop, but the reverse is rarely true and usually only under the most difficult conditions. The collapse of Bronze Age Greek kings and cities paved the way for agrarian democracy. In Detroit, demolished city blocks are giving way to experiments in urban farming. But often, once farmland disappears, it is forever gone.

The Greek model of the farm as the wellspring of family, purpose, independence, and responsibility — toward those you love, toward the land, toward the country — thrived under the American system. In many ways, this model was adopted by the American middle-class nuclear family. The land might have been replaced with a yard, and the tractor with a car, and the crops with a different kind of career, but the values remained — at least somewhat.

Our own Thomas Jefferson envisioned America as an agrarian republic, a society and culture of values rooted to the land making moral sense through the lens of Christianity. It was those heartland values raised from the farmland that would guide American’s citizens toward responsible exercise of freedom, and serve as reminders to those who did not farm what was at stake. Yet, then, the rural population outnumbered the urban.

If Carroll loses her farms, and if America loses hers, we risk the loss of our identity, and our nation. Greece and Rome were built upon agrarian ideals put into practice. The Roman historian Tacitus, writing during the time of the Empire, noted that those traditional values had built the Republic — and were by the time of the Empire, desperately needed again.

Carroll herself has always been celebrated as a rural quiltwork of fields and small towns. Carroll has done so well in part because Carroll has remained so rooted to the land, and to those real values.

After all, farms aren’t just scenery, cows and pumpkins. Farms (and other small businesses) are vital to our American culture in far more way than those I’ve written about here. Farming in Carroll is not doomed. We can all buy local and urge leaders to enact farm-friendly policies. But all of us risk something of ourselves disappearing if our farms disappear as well.

We cannot let that happen.