I grew up around farms, but not on them. They were the familiar landscape of childhood between suburbia and rural life. I try my best to buy from local farmers when I can, but mostly the open farmland feels like freedom compared to the cluster of New Jersey I live in now. Going back to Western New York, driving through the rural parts of Pennsylvania feels both like stepping into another universe, and stepping through the threshold of a familiar home.
Most countries can reflect the stark difference between the quick, densely populated cities and the slow, spread-out rural communities. One tends to be more this way, that way, for better or for worse depending on what side of the fence you’re standing on.
It feels even more drastic when you step from somewhere like New York City, to a place like Ermine, Washington. Where neighbors are miles apart, families’ reputations determine business deals, and the quiet can hide some of the biggest scandals the country could ever know. Ghost Herd reaches into a place that is forgotten, and brings to the forefront one of the biggest cattle swindling scandals this country has ever seen.
From KUOW and Northwest Public Broadcasting, members of the NPR Network, this podcast scratches the surface of a modern wild west. One where the price of red meat could be determined almost completely by one man. Cody Easterday managed to con Tyson, one of the biggest meat companies in the country, out of millions of dollars. It all came crashing down under the scrutiny of COVID, and this series looks at what happened, how, and why.
Notoriously tight-lipped, the Easterday family did not respond to requests to be a part of Ghost Herd. However, host Anna King manages to squeeze the story out of neighbors and associates. Across these six short episodes it at times feels like the reporting came up against a wall, probably because it did. It doesn’t take away from the quiet power of a story like this if you read between the lines.
Stunted by way of a subject that wants to lay low, and the lingering effects of COVID, you feel like there’s something missing when you listen. The throughline is interesting but if you listen carefully, it is most poignant in quiet moments between significant scenes. Between the lines. Tiny threads of this series can trace back to larger issues facing our society. Large-scale landowners that never see the land they own or the people who work it, feeding our country. The way that farming overall is seen as a given, rather than a dying, unsustainable art. The tension between money and reality, between landowners and workers, and the coasts versus the flyover states permeates this seemingly simple story.
I would be fascinated to see this team take on a few stories to string together on some of these ideas, the power is there, the connections are there, and I think the world could use a few reminders of where their food comes from.
Listen to Ghost Herd here.
If you liked this podcast, maybe consider looking at Vanishing Postcards which I reviewed here.
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