Much of American idealism rests in the Heartland. Landlocked and languishing as the state of the agriculture industry is held up by labor programs and government assistance, the Heartland, though politically revered, struggles in this current day and age. Caught between a rock and a hard place, these farmers, a resilient backbone of our country, maintain a delicate balancing act between the assistance they receive, lack of American labor and the unpredictable swing of Mother Nature. All these factors came to a head in an in-depth profile on Colorado’s peach industry published last year, providing the basis for surf jazz duo, Whole Milk’s newest song, “Westword.”
Colorado adores its Western Slope picks — what is summer without a Palisade peach? But, to put it simply, the problems that growers face is nothing short of a cluster fuck.
“I was working a door shift at the Roxy Broadway on a slow night in July and got a second to read through this article, ” Alec Reid, one half of Whole Milk recalls. “I found it interesting that the local community was having such a difficult time connecting with guest-workers who have helped craft these orchards. It seems this symbiotic relationship is threatened by a program (H-2A) that was meant to help the situation. I was also shocked by the amount of power the media held in the matter. Between Cytospora, bad press and the delicate balance of profit and labor, it was sad to see a staple of our state at risk.”
Over subdued finger-picked guitars, “Westword” muses on the struggles these farmers face as they beg the listener to choose a side — the farm or the overly eager evening news. Reid and Mariah George don’t buy into the hype though, beautifully intertwining their voices unwilling to see the daunting challenge as a loss, but rather the sacrifices and setbacks of the seed. The song stands defiant and delicate, a sweet dichotomy like the peaches themselves, that eventually swells to ask whether we’re going to “talk or gawk about it.” Produced by Jim Greer of Foster the People and Andrew St. James acclaim, the track is a folk song with a fight in it.
Though the original article that influenced the song was published a little less than a year ago, “Westword” arrives at a devastating juncture in which a freeze in mid-April of this year caused Governor Polis to declare a state of emergency for the agriculture industry. With the odds already stacked against the peach industry in particular, coupled with an estimation that the freeze wiped out nearly 95% of this year’s harvest, there’s never been a more presumptive time to talk about it.
That conversation is only bolstered by the existence of “Westword.” To dive into the tribulations of getting one of our beloved summer fixtures from the farm to the table is no small task, however, if the subject matter doesn’t reel you in, the melodies certainly will.