A lot of people we met on our cross-country bike tour, warned us about there being “nothing” up ahead. As we weren’t in any position to reroute, we’d peddle on towards the nothingness, without ever really getting there…until we reached the ocean, at which point we turned South. The “nothing” that heartland Americans spoke of was usually, by contrast, filled with a very productive something. True, there are miles with no hills, no trees, no houses, no schools, no stop signs, no restaurants, no churches, no gas stations, no tattoo parlors, no nothing that suggests the thriving economy that we so closely correlate with life.
But business was very much alive, in the rows and rows of cash crops striping the nation. In New York it was apples. They didn’t look like apple trees really though, more like grape vines. A local biker we rode with for a while explained that the trees were being genetically modified to climb upwards rather than grow outwards to allow for easier harvesting.
In Ontario, along the shore of Lake Erie we saw tomatoes and tobacco. The town of Leamington aka “The Tomato Capital of Canada” had taken a recent hit as Heinz, who had using Leamington’s tomatoes and processing factory for 100 years, pulled out in 2014. That didn’t stop the tomatoes from growing though.
Corn, soy, wheat and sugar beet fields were a consistent backdrop of gold and green from Michigan to North Dakota. The corn got higher as we moved westward through the summer, until sure enough by the 4th of July, it was knee-high. These stretches of commodities were punctuated by grain elevators–concrete mega silos that store the goods until they are Pez-dispensed into a truck.
The redundancy of the crops had me wondering where America grows everything else (look no further than California’s I-5) and put into perspective the colossal scale of our sugar-starch-oil based food source. Ironically, It was in these densely agricultural areas, that grocery stores with fresh produce were the fewest and farthest between. Often the only place selling anything edible were the little mini-marts attached to the gas stations, showing in a way, the precedence that car food takes over human food.