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It gets in your blood

The View from Here

My daughter Hannah made her second trip to the Neshoba County Fairgrounds a couple of Sundays ago. Her first visit was last August when she was a ripe two weeks old. She spent her first Fair Week asleep — snuggled between the refrigerator and a big ice cooler — in the kitchen of the Farish-Vickers-Smith cabin.

The trip back on Mother’s Day was much more subdued. Instead of thousands of people, there were only a couple of dozen folks working on their cabins or cooking out on the hot May afternoon.

I’m not sure if I like sitting on the cabin porch more when it’s peaceful or when drunks are stumbling by at 2 a.m. I have fond memories of both, but I think the best time so far was the last trip with Hannah.

In the late afternoon, the two of us were standing in the red clay dirt on the racetrack. Her mama’s father was there, too. Hannah wanted down. She wanted into that dirt. She was wearing white. Mama wouldn’t approve, I thought.

I let her down anyway.

She crawled around and picked up broken pebbles in her tiny hands. She covered herself in that red. We all laughed. She was ready for the Fair now.

It wasn’t until we were driving home on Highway 21 that I thought about the link between being a Southerner and loving dirt. It sounds like a bad Jeff “You might be a redneck…” Foxworthy joke, but it’s much more.

It’s that smell of wet earth from an April field. Fresh vegetables you buy out of the back of a pickup truck. The autumn-blue sky soaring above rows of cotton. That dead gray of mud, cold and rain in December.

Idyllic, romantic, idealized notions but still real to anyone who’s seen, smelled or felt any of it.

I saw it all in my daughter when she played in that red dirt. There’s an interconnectivity between the soil, the land and that feeling of place that we Southerners are always talking or writing or dreaming about.

There’s a sense of that interconnectivity in one of Mississippi’s most important industries — agriculture. Not only is it a billion-dollar business; it’s a part of us. All of us. Even if you’ve never played in a barn, walked through a 4-H exhibit hall or just stopped along a gravel road and looked out over row after row of soybeans. It’s more than just business, and that’s what makes this week’s MBJ focus on agriculture and the Delta so interesting. We’ve taken a look at the forces shaping agribusiness as Mississippi farmers — whether the crop is cotton, corn or catfish (or even tilapia or kenaf) — compete in a rapidly evolving global market. It’s not a perfect world, but the big picture looks bright. People are excited about the technology and resources available to harvest new products and profit.

In the meantime, I think I’ll buy a couple of tomato plants for Hannah. We’ll save a few for the Fair. Playing in the dirt makes you hungry and there’s nothing better than a fresh tomato sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise and salt.

Tastes like summertime in Mississippi.

Jim Laird is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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