Infrastructure is not just interstate highways
Published 11:19 am Friday, September 22, 2023
Years ago at a Friends of Agriculture breakfast, Lee Mink was the speaker and the topic he spoke on was ‘sustainable agriculture.’ Although he said many things quite interesting to the local farmers and gardeners in attendance, one sentence stood out for me that I have always remembered. Lee said that, after years of improving his soil, saving seeds and helping to develop local suppliers and markets, he can get everything that he needs in Polk County. Keeping in mind that 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 on moving people and products across vast distances. This made lots of sense when gasoline was cheap, air pollution was not a hot topic 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 dirt roads leading from the Green River side of town to Saluda. Now to drive to a neighbor one mile away, it is necessary to drive five 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 than to drive.
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 that we need as close to home as we can. That means changing our idea of what we need. Habit and marketing have taught us that everything can be done better, and more economically, with faster machines and modern labor-saving products. But maybe the slower, gravel road will lead us to our desired destination just as well. And maybe the journey itself will bring us a reward we never suspected was there.
Any sustainable infrastructure worth our investment must support local commerce and community. It is completely foreign to much of our thinking that 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 that you pay him to feed and clothe his children, next door to you. The taxes he pays maintain your own roads.
Maybe someday we’ll realize that 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 act accordingly.