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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dust to Dust

 A dust storm approaching  Stratford, TX - 1939 
by: DJ Rezac

This week most Americans are looking forward to spending some quality time with our families, logging time on the couch and of course the all-important Thanksgiving dinner. Here in the United States, we set aside this Thursday every year to give thanks for the people, places, and things we love the most. Although I like to think I do it more than once a year, it is admittedly tough for me to keep things in perspective in this fast paced world that we live in and to take time to gives thanks for all that I have. However, this week I found something that really did the trick. 

World renowned director and producer Ken Burns, famous for his documentaries which include The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, has hit another home run with the most recent addition to his trophy case, The Dust Bowl. This two part film, which aired on most PBS stations on the 18th and 19th, chronicles the hardships and perseverance of tens of thousands of people living in the plains during a time period known as the “Dirty 30’s”.  

 During the 1930’s, as a result of the use of farming practices suited for the heavy, moisture rich soils of the east as well as 10 years of drought, billions of tons of top soil were blown away in massive dust storms that blacked out the sun and anything else in their path. Towns were decimated, livelihoods destroyed, families uprooted and many lives lost. The film includes firsthand accounts from several people who scratched out a living during the Dust Bowl as well as hundreds of striking photographs and rarely seen video footage. I strongly encourage everyone to take the time this week to watch this film on your local PBS station which will replay the series. To find out when it will air on your station visit the PBS website . The series can also be purchased on DVD or downloaded from iTunes.

Today, as the US experiences what we perceive as “hard times”, I think it’s important to remember the things that we have experienced as a nation not so long ago. Survivors of the Dust Bowl tell how their parents refused to go on “Relief” (government assistance) until the point of starvation for no reason other than their own pride and determination to remain self–reliant. What would another Dust Bowl-like event bring today?  

Though the rains eventually returned and soil conservation practices were adopted to restore the ability of the ground to support agriculture, the area now relies largely on irrigation from the Ogallala aquifer to sustain the necessary crop production. The recent drought in the area has put a strain on the aquifer and unless rains return to recharge it or decrease usage the subterranean river will likely continue to be diminished. 

The good news is that through technologies including genetically modified (GMO) drought tolerant crops, precision agriculture, No-Till farming, judicious irrigation and continued use of the soil conservation methods we are producing more food with fewer resources than ever before. Clearly if we hope to sustain our population we must continue to embrace technologies such as these and continue to improve them. It is important to keep our errors and lessons vivid in our memories and look back as well as to the future to prevent another Dust Bowl.

This Thursday, besides being thankful for my family, loved-ones and how truly fortunate I am to live in the greatest nation of earth, I will be especially thankful for the mistakes I have made as I realize now their true worth:

The mistakes we make today are the seeds of tomorrow’s harvest.

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