A Day's Work

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fall 2006 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

Go North, Young Bass
By Thomas Crone

In the days prior to this summer's Fourth of July, our highway system was a tad overburdened near downtown. On one particularly nasty Friday afternoon, the combination of Fair St. Louis activities, bridgework and general getting-outta-town traffic snarled the entire transportation grid of downtown. And thinking that the mess could be outsmarted turned what's normally a 60-minute trip down I-64 into what was nearly a two-and-a-half-hour journey into the heart of Clinton County, Illinois.

The purpose of the trip was to find some kohlrabi, grown on a local farm. (Long story, don't ask.) The Meyer family, living on several properties in or near Bartelso, Illinois, was kind enough to show me their kohlrabi plants and I got a chance to sample a few pieces along the way. It was as good as I'd remembered it as a kid, though the original intent of locating the kohlrabi went for naught.

While on the trip, though, a few interesting side conversations developed.

For example, the Meyers, Ed and Carla, use part of their land for beef cattle — which I mistakenly called "cows" — bought soon after their calf stage, and kept until they're ready for the ultimate sale. The cattle, about half-way through their growth stage, were an inquisitive lot, pushing right up to the fencing, with a few nosing their heads on through the rails. Nothing particularly unique about the situation for those near a working farm on a day-to-day basis, but fun for a newbie.

A square lake nearby, though, provided a more intriguing story.

The bigmouth bass being raised in the pond, filtered by a humming generator, contained hundreds of fish destined for diners quite far from Bartelso, or even St. Louis, for that matter. The fish, instead, will eventually be transferred live, via refrigerated trucks, for sale in the Asian markets of Toronto. By the Meyers' account, that's a route that several local farms have gone, with their ponds and small lakes turned into breeding grounds for fish destined for a foreign market.

All three Meyer brothers — Todd, Eddie and Keith — work on the pond project with their father, while also keeping busy with another sideline operation, TEK Construction.

This textbook example of the globalization in agriculture shouldn't be particularly surprising. It's certainly happening all over, with different wrinkles.

But it's hard to imagine it happening in a more picture-postcard environment, where a sprightly dog and cat have the run of the place and tag along with visitors.

Bartelso's a classic Southern Illinois town, built outward from the small, Catholic church in the center of town. With a handful of operating businesses, the tiny commercial district seamlessly gives way to housing and, as quick as can be, the local farms...some of them, it seems, tied into the international agricultural system in ways you'd never expect, thanks, in part, to some fish heading to Canada this fall.

Thomas Crone writes and enjoys fish — in a theoretical way — in St. Louis. See more of his stuff at thomascrone.com.

© 2006 The Commonspace