A Good Idea at the Time
“Fella I once knew in El Paso, one day he took all his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus. I asked him the same question, why? He said it seemed to be a good idea at the time.”
Steve McQueen, This Magnificent Seven
Driving around the other day I passed a corn field sign. Folks from non-farming areas might not be familiar with field signs. Seed companies get attention by having their sales representatives advertise the particular variety growing in a field. (They usually wait to see if the crop is doing well before putting up the signs; you aren’t likely to see anyone bragging on a stunted field of 30 bushel corn.) Most of the signs were removed at harvest, but a few stragglers invariably are missed, so there are always ads for all the big names in ag seeds on the field margins in any farming area.
The sign that got me thinking is for the Chemgro company. I didn’t take a picture of the sign in the field, because I don’t want to make anyone feel like I’m singling them out for abuse. This isn’t about abuse, I promise. This is more about self reflection and only tenuously related to farming. Actually, it is more a ruse to write about my musings, but since this is a farm blog it’s got to be farmish somehow. I don’t have a reason to believe that Chemgro is any better or worse than any of dozens of other seed companies that service our area.
The point I’m making after staggering through those qualifications and apologies is that at some point in time, naming a company “Chemgro” made a lot of sense. Probably at the same time as “Chemlawn” and “Liqui Chem” made sense for lawn care company names. It is interesting how times change, particularly how public perceptions change. Chemlawn rebranded itself as TruGreen, but Chemgro still keeps on. Similarly the seed company Mycogen carries its legacy of mycological genetic engineering in its name. Would any company today (outside of perhaps the laboratory supplies industry) include chemicals or genetic engineering in its name?
My question to myself is: what do I accept unconditionally now that a few decades hence will appear preposterous, gauche, quaint, suspect, or even abhorrent? It is unlikely that I’ll be able to discern that at this time. There are probably some prophetic voices pointing these things out today, but it is human nature to not listen to those voices until after the consequences catch up. Since I probably can’t do a good job of predicting what contemporary phrases will sound as strange to another generation as “Chemgro” sounds to me, maybe the only good strategy is to approach all buzzwords, catchphrases, and the rest of the sustainable/grassfed/organic/pastured/holistic/agrarian/humanscale/freerange/biodynamic/ecological/humane/lowimpact/whatchamacallit zeitgeist with a little more humility. “It seemed like a good idea at the time” might be the only justification I’ll be able to give when future generations scratch their heads at the effects of the legacy of what I valued and how that affected my farming. And when they wonder why I worked on something as curious as a “Farm Blog”, I’ll give them the best Steve McQueen impression as I say it.