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Home Grown


Home Grown

It’s a borderline revelation to revisit the blog and find themes that weave their way haltingly throughout, many of them freudian and unintentional. I suspect that it may be a generational thing.

Sure, a disproportionate share of historical change happens incrementally — watching those hands on the clock move so subtly that we fail to notice — which means the changes I’m talking about were already well under way when I arrived consciously on the scene in the late 1940s and early 50s, so I can’t claim to have had much to do with them other than being an interested observer. But it’s clear that the Agincourt of my “youth”, the Agincourt I’ve imagined from that time, has extended its influence into the present. It’s resisted those processes because I want to recreate a time less fraught, more user-friendly, than the “time” outside this bubble that I’ve created. Mea culpa. Pendulums swing and the Bedford Park of my own experience has come back to haunt me in the best way possible.

As I reflect on all these small gestures, they’ve obviously had a cumulative effect on this fictional place. Consider a few of them:

  • DeBijenkorf’s Department Store takes its name from a real Dutch institution, the Netherlands’ equivalent of Nordstrom’s or what in my own experience Marshall Field once was but is no more. So, an opportunity to introduce Dutch immigration to the U.S., of which Iowa has a disproportionate share [viz. Pella]. But subconsciously I was reflected a much closer encounter with Iowa local history: Steve Varenhorst, a former student of our program at NDSU, came from the family of a home-owned department store in Storm Lake — just down the road from Agincourt, in fact. I hope Steve doesn’t mind.
  • It has been shown that the shorter the distance from production to point-of-sale, cost is reduced and freshness maintained. So agribusinesses like Fennimore Industries reflect that relatively recent understanding. And a manufacturer of pots and pans would have employed locals and used local materials to the greatest extent possible.
  • Even something as minor as The Periodic Table, a locally-sourced restaurant found by Rosemary Plička and her husband Brad Nowatsky, reflects that “home-grown” intention. I genuinely hope it’s been a success since its founding more than five years ago.
  • Strangely, the internet has contributed to this phenomenon. A used bookstore like Shelf Life could never succeed with only a local audience. But posting its stock on search engines like Biblio.com, Alibris, and others puts a dealer like Hamish Brookes in a competitive position. So, too, for “Alouette” brand maple syrup, produced in Vermont by Catherine LaFarge, Howard Tabor’s sister, formerly local distribution expands to serve a world-wide consumer base.
  • There has also been a tendency for Agincourt to take care of its own: “Pliny’s Purse” is a local benefaction; or “Common Ground”, a local initiative to provide WWI doughboys with benefits that would have to wait for the G.I. Bill to be put in place at the conclusion of WWII.

What about “home delivery”? I recall the knife sharpener who made the rounds during the spring and summer months. Home delivery of milk and other dairy products. The Fuller Brush Man. The goddam Good Humor man, for krysake! What about local beer that doesn’t have to be pasteurized, made both safe and tasteless at the same time? How much of this has managed to hold on through those lean years of globalization?

I should rest my case — before I bore you, exhaust my arsenal of examples, or unintentionally offend. But you get the point. “Think globally. Act Locally.” It really is a question of the chicken and the egg and the distance between them.

By the way, if I intend to offend you, you’ll know it.


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