US: Breadbasket of Democracy

Publisher Name: 
Orion Magazine

In the new red-blue lexicon of American politics, the Red River Valley of North Dakota seems aptly named. This is football-on-Friday-night country, where Clear Channel Radio sets the tone, and patriotic themes blend smoothly with corporate ones. Broad and pancake-flat, with topsoil measured in feet rather than inches, it possesses some of the most prized agricultural land in America. The roads run straight, the pickup trucks are big, and the immense Massey Ferguson tractors that ply the fields come equipped with global positioning system guidance, satellite radio, and quadraphonic sound. In 2004, George Bush carried North Dakota with 63 percent of the vote. It seems like the last place that one might go looking for a revolt against the powers that be.

Nor does a man like Todd Leake seem like the type of person to participate in any such uprising. "Extreme traditionalist" might be closer to the mark. Lean and soft-spoken, Leake has spent the past twenty-eight years farming the homestead established by his great-grandfather, a Canadian immigrant who arrived here over 120 years ago. "I guess you'd describe me as an umpteenth-generation wheat farmer," he says, "because as far back as we can tell, on both sides of the family, it's been farmers. And as far back as we can tell, it's also been wheat."

On a crisp, windy November day, Leake reflects on the events that turned him into a thorn in the side of the agribusiness establishment, especially the Monsanto Company. He gestures toward two symbols. The first, just visible through his kitchen window, is the outline of the North Dakota Mill, the only grain-handling facility owned jointly by the citizenry of any state. "Sort of the epitome of farmers cooperating," he notes.

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture
  • 181 Food and Agriculture
  • 190 Natural Resources
  • 192 Technology & Telecommunications