Politics and Turnips

Here is a commentary of mine that was on Vermont Public Radio on November 1:

As we approach Election Day, the rhetoric in most of America has become overheated. Civility has succumbed to hostility, and we’ve even seen people with extreme views resort to guns and bombs.

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When I was young, I sometimes went door to door to engage my neighbors in political discussions, but I’ve given up trying to tell others how to vote. In fact, I’ve been surprised to find myself wishing I could take a break from politics completely. And a few days ago, I found that political time-out in Wardsboro, at the 16th annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival.

My paternal grandmother, may she rest in peace, loved to go for a ride in the car. In her later years, my dad would bundle her up and take to admire the scenery - especially in the fall, when the leaves were in their full glory. I seem to take after her in this respect, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride to Wardsboro, even though many of the leaves had already fallen, and a thin layer of snow coated the mountain road.

The festival celebrates a turnip variety that locals have been growing for more than 100 years and is actually the state vegetable. I went there to judge the turnips, but what I found was a community gathering for a non-political event, one that brought everyone in town together to raise funds for the local library. Judging by bumper stickers, there were people of all political persuasions attending, though in the Bernie Sanders state, perhaps they tilted a bit more one way than another.

Lady Gilfeather of Podunk, a well-dressed turnip

The winner of the Grand Prize grew a 22 pound turnip, and got a ribbon – but no cash. A representative of the Vermont Department of Agriculture presented ribbons, and offered congratulations. Volunteers sold turnip soup, pancakes and casseroles - and for several hours I never once thought about politics.

The main hall at the 16th annual festival. All photos courtesy of Anita Rafael and Friends of the Wardsboro Library

Of course I’m gonna vote - but I still think we need more Turnip Festivals, or their equivalent. Not every town can boast an heirloom vegetable, but we can organize potlucks and dances or storytelling events – because sharing a meal and a good laugh is a wonderful way to heal the spirit and bring a weary community together.

If you wish to hear this, click here.

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