Infrastructure not just interstate highways

Published 11:43 am Thursday, April 7, 2011

The speaker at last week’s Friends of Agriculture breakfast was Lee Mink, and the topic he spoke on was sustainable agriculture.

One sentence in particular stood out for me.

Lee said that, after years of improving his soil, saving seeds and developing local suppliers and markets, he can get everything he needs for his farm business right here in Polk County.

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Keeping in mind most modern agriculture is heavily dependent upon fertilizers and fossil fuels, this is a phenomenal statement.

Infrastructure built in this country over the past 60 years has focused almost entirely upon moving people and products vast distances.

This made lots of sense when gasoline was cheap, and our focus was on bettering lives by expanding our horizons and markets.

Those interstate highways were built on valleys and farmlands, and the interstate highway system connected large towns while also bisecting smaller communities.

Thousands of acres of fertile land were covered with asphalt. Rural roads used by tractors, cars and pedestrians were closed. Local traffic was pre-empted by long distance traffic.

From our house it is quicker and easier to get to Hendersonville than it is to get to Tryon, which is 5 miles closer. I-26 obliterated a half dozen old roads leading from the Green River area to the town to Saluda.

Now to drive to a neighbor 1 mile away it is necessary to drive 5 miles, across I-26, down Howard Gap, then back across I-26 to end up one ridge over from where you started.

It’s quicker to walk through the woods.

By definition, infrastructure is the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function.

I want to bring that definition down to what infrastructure means to us right here, right now, in Polk County.

Now more than ever before, it makes sense to get everything we need as close to home as we can. That means changing our idea of what we need.

Habit, and marketing, has taught us everything can be done better, and more economically, with faster machines and modern labor-saving products.

But maybe the slower, dirt road will lead us to our desired destination just as well.

Any sustainable infrastructure worth our investment must support local commerce and community.

Maybe paying the man next door more than we’d pay the machine operator from Spartanburg would be the best decision. The big machine is faster, but it makes a mess.

It crushes whatever comes in its path.

The man works gently; he leaves no mess. And he takes the money you pay him to feed and clothe his children, next door to you. The taxes he pays maintain your own roads.

Maybe some day we’ll realize it is just as important to be able to get to the store or house right down the road as it is to get to the city 50 miles away, and create our infrastructure accordingly.