Tuesday of Holy WeekConserving Tennessee's rural heritage
Last night Nicole and I attended the monthly meeting of the Riverdale Saddle Club, of which we are both members. Nicole has been a member of the club since she was a girl, and I have joined the club since we have been married. Though it is home to equine enthusiasts from multiple counties (we live in Jefferson County) and all over Knox County, the majority of members live in or near the Riverdale Community along the French Broad River.
Amidst the normal club business of preparing for the horse show season, Nicole's uncle Bob Wolfenbarger rose to inform everyone that if they intended to maintain the way of life to which they had grown accustomed, they now needed to fight for it. Developers, corporate executives, and county officials are already having their way by putting a large industrial park near the area-largely because no one showed up to oppose it. Now the county, the land speculators, developers, and others want their way with the area between the two rivers, including Riverdale. This is a traditionally agricultural area with rolling hills and small farms-Saddle Club members are known to ride horses along the backroads. Bobby reminded members what happened with the industrial park despite known and widespread opposition, largely because no one showed up to community meetings. "If you do not show up to make your voice heard, a politician will decide what happens to this area for you." He said that if some developers have their way, the day will come when members would not be able to ride their horses on the open road in the community anymore.
I am in no way anti-business, and I do have a real understanding that the only thing that does not change is the reality that everything will change. However, part of what it means to be a conservative is that you wish to conserve certain ways of doing things. The agrarian way of life is a critical part of Tennessee heritage that is well worth preserving. To put it more succinctly in Nicole's words "I do not want our children to have mere pictures of Mamaw's farm." I agree with Nicole. Thus far East Knox County and (thank God) Jefferson County have managed to avoid the scars of over-development, but that day is fast fading for people in East Knox County. The industrialists will come with their industrial parks, and the land speculators with their subdivisions, and will attempt to destroy the last vestiges of agrarianism left in Knox County.
With some in Knox County beginning again to sing the siren song of consolidation and metropolitan government, if that does come it will be the beginnings of the death pangs for the pieces of agrarian life in the then-formerly free Knox County. At issue, however, is more than just what might happen to Knox County. The larger issue is whether some tie to the land even matters anymore. Without a tie to the land, we are fast becoming a rootless and a valueless society-one whose morals are determined by the television and Hollywood, and whose work ethic is determined by superiors with no sense of family or place. In destroying the land our forefathers built, and destroying our tie to that land, we are destroying the the very fabric of the Republic.
We see the continual decline in the rights of farmers and small landowners evidenced in the transformation of the Tennessee Farm Bureau from a society of farmers and landowners that offered insurance to its members in which you had to own property to join to nothing more than a glorified insurance company that anyone can join. It is no longer an effective advocate for the small landowner.
Not everyone can be a farmer (I'm not) and not everyone can own land (largely because these developers that city people hunger for drive up the price), but the land and people who work it are as much a part of our heritage as Davy Crockett, John Sevier, Andrew Jackson, or William Blount. As conservatives, we should want to conserve rural Tennessee and rural America as much as possible. If preserving the way of life that built this country for the sake of our children and our children's children is not motivation enough, then let conservatives remember that conservative votes are not found in big cities.
We can be pro-business and pro-rural America, but as conservatives we ought to be able to walk the fine line and not promote one at the cost of the other. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase a Democrat: We should not place upon the farmer's brow this crown of thorns, nor crucify rural America upon a cross of "development."