Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fishing for Gold: The Story of Alabama's Catfish Industry

I found Karni Perez's book, Fishing for Gold: The Story of Alabama's Catfish Industry by accident while browsing PaperBackSwap one day. I requested it and put it on my 2009 reading list.

It is an interesting and thorough history, and I recognized some of the names of the people who pioneered the industry in Alabama, and those at Auburn University whose research aided the farmers. Would anyone else read this book? I don't know. I'm not a fisherman, nor am I a farmer, but the book really was more of a story than a compilation of data. It reminded me of Wendell Berry's fiction.

From the chapter, Reflections:

"Alabama's catfish industry has some unique qualities. For one, it is family-based. Alabama's farms are operated typically by the farmers rather than by hired managers. Farmers and family do much of the work themselves. This has strengthened the Alabama industry because the farmers care about their work and about making it succeed."

"...[T]he farmers want to continue living in a rural environment, on the land that, in many cases, has belonged to their family in a tradition of farming... Consider, for example, what one West Alabama farmer expresses: 'I loved the site where the ponds were built. I liked being down there. We were on a running creek with a little sand on it. I'd grown up in the prairie, and I was fascinated with the site. And I've always loved water, so I liked the idea of these vast areas of water. Back then, a ten-acre pond was a tremendous body of water, and I loved seeing that.' "

"Farmers working the land on which they live develop a knowledge of the land and a relationship with it, a feeling for the natural conditions... [A]n experienced farmer can probably walk out of the house in the morning, smell the air, and know how much his fish are going to eat. Living in rural areas, they also possess an independence and resourcefulness that comes from having dealt with and solved all kinds of problems on the farm from day to day."

(This next part struck me as something with which Wendell Berry would agree.)
"Second, Alabama's industry is also community-based. Fish production, processing, and sales all take place generally in the same communities. The farmers tend to live within a close area and see each other frequently. Most appear to be active in their communities. Often they are friends, go to church together, go to school functions together, play ball together, and watch their children play ball together. Members of the small farming communities generally know much of what their neighbors are doing. Researchers have found that word-of-mouth is a primary way in which ideas and information travel in agrarian communities, and when a farmer made money with his ponds or increased his acreage, the word spread quickly."

"Benefits occur when an industry is anchored solidly within a community. One such benefit is the informal resolution of conflicts and problems that might otherwise be disruptive and destructive to both the industry and the community. Years of associating with each other as peers in a variety of contexts tends to result in a certain level of trust."

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