(From Bob Dotson, NBC News National Correspondent)
Growing up I spent my summers in farm country - Kansas - with a grandfather who loved to tell stories. Perhaps that's why I got into the storytelling business. One day when I was 18, Grandpa Bailey told me how he impressed girls at my age. "I would put on my oldest pair of pants," he said. "The ones with pieces of cloth stitched at the knees to cover the wear." Grandpa drove his dates out into the country, pointing at prosperous farms as they passed. "That's my patch!" he exclaimed, tapping his torn pant leg beneath the dash. "That's my patch!"
At 18 my grandfather was all hat and no cattle, a kid with little money and no property. He would have loved today's American Story with Bob Dotson. WATCH VIDEO.
In a world of blazing change, Andrew Orr seeks a life as constant as the seasons. His neighbors gave him one heck of a deal. His dream. What did they get in return? A bit of who they once were … and would like to be again.
The United States had six million farms in 1944. By 1970 that number had declined to three million. Today? Only about two million. But people around Westport, Massachusetts are bucking the trend. They voted to start saving farms back in 2002. Raised $405-thousand dollars with a barn dance and private donations. Taxed themselves and got government grants totaling another $355-thousand dollars. Then began battling developers to make sure the farms around their town would not become asphalt meadows.
I'm thinking that TV cameras are making us see only things far away. Magazines are making us hear things, only if they're written down. The Internet is making us value only people we haven't met. We should start taping, writing, blogging what we notice about our neighborhoods. Maybe it will help us treasure what we can also touch.
We Americans are good at moving on. To other places. Other dreams. Our homes -- packaged into subdivisions and ribboned by highways - are places to be sold and bought again. Such homes are not the cornerstone of families as much as expressing in brick and mortar and landscaped lawns where we stand on the ladder of prosperity.
Today's story is about a young man who longs, not just to live off the land. But like the people who settled this country, the land has a hold on him. My grandfather would understand. He'd be grinning.
If you're near Westport, Massachusetts, this summer stop by Andrew Orr's vegetable stand. Tell him my Grandpa Bailey sent you.
Keep those ideas coming. Drop a note in my mailbox on the Today Show webpage, American Story with Bob Dotson.
Want to help save family farms in your neighborhood? Here's where you can find more information:
Westport Land Conservation Trust (508) 636-9228