Letter: Tyson the Bison and the future of farming

Updated 5/16/2022 4:17 PM

In last month's images of Tyson roaming the quiet streets of a local subdivision, it's hard to miss the clashing of Americana symbols. An American Bison -- focal point of a romanticized home-on-the-range version of the prairie -- and a subdivision as American as apple pie. Perhaps it's this paradox that has captured locals' attention: the simple absurdity of it all makes for a great news story as much as it does over-the-fence small talk.

But Tyson's journey through suburbia is also a clear visual for the slow-churning process of place reidentification.


Farms turning into subdivision developments are certainly nothing new, but as urbanization creeps along, there comes a tipping point between "rural" and "urban." The latest 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture shows Lake County lost 47 operations in five years. In 20 years, farmland acreage declined nearly 40%.

There's much to say on the causes and consequences of these changes, but I'll save it for later: we have a loose bison to deal with, after all. As entertaining as Tyson's monthslong evasion of capture is, it's also troubling. How could a half-ton animal be on the run for so long? What does the escapade say about the future of agriculture in Lake County?

Farms can't survive on their own. Farmers need agriculture-specific social infrastructure to support their operations. While we often think of "rural" as synonymous with "isolated," rural livelihoods depend, in large part, on the deep-rooted social and economic connections that are stretched thinner with each new for-sale sign.

There will be a point in Lake County where feed stores will go under, where trucking expenses grow too high and processors too few. And there will come a time when there aren't enough neighbors left to catch your escaped bison.

Danielle Schmidt

Madison, Wisconsin

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