Most people in this country, when they sit down to eat one of the several meals they are likely to enjoy today, will never think about where the protein, vegetables and grains they consume came from.
Many will probably pause a few seconds to say grace, an appropriate response for the multitude of blessings they receive on a daily basis. But how many will take time to consider the efforts that some farmer or rancher took to assure that Americans enjoy an abundant, wholesome supply of food? And how many will think about what a bargain they have on their dining tables?
Not many. Not enough. Not nearly enough.
March 19 is National Ag Day. It’s a Labor Day for farmers and ranchers, but without the attention, the fanfare and the holiday associated with the September end-of-summer ritual. For most of the nation, Ag Day will go unremarked. Folks will go about their business—working as usual, attending school, shopping and preparing meals—with no thought about the huge debt they owe to the people who make those meals possible and who also provide the materials for the clothes, shoes and other essential items they require on a daily basis.
They will not consider the economic impact those agrarian heroes create—the jobs that come directly and indirectly from producing, processing, transporting and selling food and fiber. They will give no thought to the number of pickup trucks sold in rural America, the tractors, combines, irrigation pipes, fertilizers, seeds, and all the other materials required to keep a farm or ranch productive and communities solvent, schools open and country roads paved—mostly.
The number changes every year but the latest figure I’ve heard is that one farmer produces enough food to feed 144 of those of us who are free to pursue other tasks. Farmers’ efficiency frees the rest of us up to run banks, teach school, care for the sick, create art or fight fires. We are not, as was many more of us three or four generations back, tied to the land, required to grow our own food and produce cotton or wool for our own clothes.
That diminution of farmer numbers is one reason why so few people will even think about agriculture tomorrow. A significantly, drastically, smaller percentage of our population has even a remote association with a farm today than was the case 100 years ago. Yet we have more and easier access to food. Grocery store aisles are packed with more than just the staples—bread, milk, vegetables and meat—but food items I had never heard of when I was a boy, back 50 years and more.
Abundance. Nowhere can that word be use more appropriately than in a typical American grocery store. But with abundance also comes apathy. We expect milk to be available. We anticipate the produce aisle will be stocked with fresh vegetables and fruit. We count on a meat counter with slabs of beef, pork chops, chickens—whole and cut up or just packages of thighs or boneless, skinless breasts. We expect both abundance and convenience.
And we get it. But we don’t stop to think about where it came from. We don’t consider the efforts a rancher made to chop the ice out of water tanks so his cattle could drink on an intolerably cold January day. We don’t consider the 108-degree July day that found a corn farmer in the middle of field trying to repair an irrigation nozzle. We never consider the anguish of watching a good crop wither away in the third month of a drought or battered to a pulp in the third minute of a hail storm.
I am privileged to know these folks. I am blessed to be able to tell their stories, empathize with their hardships and enjoy their triumphs. They are my heroes. They are my friends. They are the salt of the earth. And today we salute them. Thank you.
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