"Don't remember me, do you?''
I looked for clues in his face from my perch on a stool in the Agri News booth at Farmfest. It dawned on me that he graduated a year behind me from high school. But I could not recall his name.
"We only grew up maybe two miles apart,'' he said.
He bailed me out by saying his name. I felt bad that my memory too often fails me. He milks 90 cows and has a daughter who likes animals -- rabbits in particular. We caught up on some familiar names, telling each other where so-and-so is and remembering three in his class who are no longer with us. One died from a weird African virus shortly after returning from the Peace Corps. Another died in a plane crash and the third was found dead -- probably of a heart attack -- next to his pickup.
August days are good for remembering such things. It seems a long time ago when we were young, growing up and making plans. Not everything turns out as it should. He and I hadn't seen each other for a decade or more, but still a bond -- no matter how tenuous -- existed.
It was a beautiful day at Farmfest, not at all hot and humid like most days are out here. From Mankato on west to Gilfillan, it seemed the highway passed corn and soybean fields broken up by small towns that wouldn't be out of place in a 1950s painting. The candidates for Minnesota governor had come this day to debate. Tim Penny, Tim Pawlenty, Ken Pentel and Roger Moe were seated onstage in a nearly filled tent, responding to questions from a media panel that I was thankfully not part of.
These debates are of questionable value, because most candidates in most races pander to their audiences rather than staking out positions that make people think. Pentel -- the Green Party candidate -- stepped into choppy waters when he suggested organic farming was more sustainable and better for Minnesota's communities.
The rest didn't say anything that hadn't been said a thousand times before. Agricultural trade, good roads, sensible state regulations and leadership ability were touted by one and all.
If there is one thing that family farmers and rural citizens need, it is new answers to the old, vexing problems. It would have been nice if one of the candidates had spoken what is obvious to many:
That world trade is no solution unless attention is paid to raising commodity prices for every farmer, in the United States, Europe, South America and the Third World.
That the solutions to current economic frustrations can be found in the deep, rich soils in farm country.
• That; our current inability to maintain rural communities, schools and churches is directly tied to our failings as a nation to provide a price and a profit for agricultural goods.
Out here, where the corn and soybeans look good, it's obvious that the profit that should belong to farmers is being taken by someone else. There will be no solutions until that becomes commonly understood.
The "solutions" we have tried thus far -- efficiency, the world trade cure-all, relentless competition, vertical integration and a marketplace dominated by a privileged few -- have brought us to the brink of extinction.
We have become a state divided in two -- the suburbs sparkling new and the small rural communities struggling to hold on to what they've got. Ultimately, the current situation will end in disaster both for them and us.
There is little indication that the gubernatorial candidates grasp that reality.