This story came to me from Lee Ballinger, a former steelworker in Ohio’s Warren-Youngstown area. In the early twentieth century, the Youngstown area boasted the largest concentration of steel-making facilities per capita, and per square mile, in the world. In time, the city’s fate turned. Between 1977 and 1982 alone, five major steel mills closed—thereafter, 50,000 jobs vanished. Lee’s was one of them.
I know what it’s like to depend upon coal to feed a family. Many years ago I worked at a steel mill in Ohio. My job was at the coke plant where West Virginia coal was turned into coking coal for the blast furnace. The top of the coke ovens was an area the size of a football field where monstrous machines funneled coal into the ovens. It was my job to put the heavy oven lids back on nice and tight. It was literally as hot as hell up there. It felt like walking barefoot on hot coals. The air we breathed was truly foul but to us it was the sweet smell of something like success. We called it the smell of money because it paid the bills. Continue reading →
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this, or the like of this. – Henry David Thoreau
I have been working on my stories about farmers and the agricultural industry in Ohio. The farming experiences of the men I spoke to are quite distinct from one other; they included a medium scale corn and soybean producer, a community-supported berry and vegetable farmer, and a chestnut farmer who made a small fortune from the shale oil boom (but who would take chestnuts over oil any day). One common feature of the interviews was the gorgeous bucolic views I was treated to in the course of our conversations. I want to share some pictures of the landscapes, and of the men whose labor livens the land. I attempt to describe them in writing, of course. But my iPhone camera might be more capable of capturing the beauty.
Rows of Daniel’s berry and vegetable fields, and his 1940s (still working) tractor in Peninsula, Ohio.
Daniel participates in a community supported agriculture program. “In part, the cheap food that we mainly eat is made possible by inexpensive fossil fuels and that we choose to subsidize certain types of farming. Look how many people can be employed in meaningful work if we could somehow find policies that support small-scale farming. Most of us could be involved in what we eat one way or another.”
The beautiful home I stayed in on a farm in southern Ohio near Chillicothe
Dave, who manages the Swartz farm on a sharecropping basis. “There are so many people that are away from agriculture, don’t even live near the farm. They are more comfortable with just ‘show me the money.’ That is the wave now, don’t want nothing to do with it.”
I only drove by it, but I had to capture this beautiful farm in eastern Ohio
John, a retired lawyer, and his wife Nancy. “I don’t farm to live, I live to farm,” John told me.
Christmas trees grown by John’s son-in-law on his farm
Greg reflects: “As I look at the land with a 25 or 100 year perspective, then the mineral extraction becomes a real short term event, even if it seems at the moment you get a lot of money out of it. You can make the same money with chestnuts over a longer period of time.”
My latest article, now up on the Huffington Post, discusses the impact of Ohio’s centrality in the national elections on our state’s political culture.
We hear it time and again, enviously, bitterly, admiringly, coaxingly. It may be our sole characteristic that induces jealousy among our compatriots. It entices the world’s most powerful men to court us. Observers from Beijing to Benghazi eye us intently; from New York to California they unabashedly ogle us. We are awash — maybe drowning — in the money of millionaires. Here in Ohio, our votes matter.
By November 7, we will have determined the course of the domestic and foreign policies of a global superpower. Very soon thereafter all will forget us, and then in four years wonder again why we are so fickle. In the meantime, we will be left to attend to our wounds. Maybe we will mend them, but probably they will fester. All that is certain is that no entity could be so torn and embattled without suffering critical damage. Read the rest here!
On Aug. 14, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rolled through Ohio on his “The Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class” Bus Tour. Two weeks earlier, president-and-candidate Barack Obama made his own appeal to Ohio’s “average middle-class family” on his ninth campaign stop in the state. Both campaigns have placed Ohio and the middle class at the core of their messages. Each insists that they will protect and improve the middle class’s well-being, while the other will destroy it for the sake of the super-rich in one case, the welfare-state in the other. As Ohioans find themselves at the center of all this attention (often unfortunately so, being on the receiving end of 400 political ads per day), I set out to find out what it means to be in Ohio’s middle class, from Ohioans themselves. As it happens, the lower end of the spectrum is lower than Obama, Romney, and our national psyche might realize. Read the rest here!