This week most Americans will sit down to what is likely to be an over-abundant dinner, and while everyone enjoys the festivities, few will remember or reflect on the meaning behind the day. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time to recognize and appreciate the bounty from our generous land.
With 99 percent of Americans no longer having a hand in agriculture, I contend it also should be a day to reflect upon the hard-working men and women who not only feed our nation, but a significant share of the world.
Now, some at the table will view themselves as the meal’s great providers because they paid for the grocery bill or prepared the many dishes. Okay, they can have 10 percent of the credit—9 percent for the share of their income that Americans spend on food and a bit extra for cooking the meal. (Hey, I love to cook, and I’m not saying it’s not work. But I also have farmed, and cooking is definitely easier.)
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, today one farmer feeds 155 people. That compares to 19 people in 1940, 45 in 1960, 115 in 1980 and 130 in 2000. No two ways about it, that’s a spectacular track record. Now add in the fact that farmers are doing it with less land, tillage, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides than in previous decades. Of course, that’s not the message that the folks at the Thanksgiving dinner table hear on a daily basis.
A veterinarian at Iowa State University recently calculated how many pork servings a single market hog provides. Assuming a 185-pound carcass a generous 8-ounce serving (USDA recommends 4 ounces), that hog would provide 371 servings; that’s outstanding, and not widely known or appreciated. I haven’t put pencil to paper, but beef, dairy, poultry and other producers would have equally stunning statistics.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here and that’s part of agriculture’s on-going challenge, although we are getting better at getting our message out. Last Friday, as I was trolling for morning news updates, I landed on ABC’s Good Morning America and it has a segment called “Just three words”, where viewers send in videos with a message using just three words.
Much to my surprise and delight the first one was a young girl with the message, “Thank a farmer.” It was perfect.
Then I got to thinking, why doesn’t every farm or ranch have a sign at its entry with one, two or three important facts on it? For example, it could show how many people the farm feeds in a week, month or year; the number of jobs or income it provides to the area; the reduction in crop chemicals over a period of time or other such detail. (AFBF offers some “fast facts” but any number of farm and ranch groups have similar factsheets.)
Hey, we all know that McDonald’s serves billions a day. Why can’t U.S. agriculture build its own brand message?
On a related note, not everyone will be well-fed on Thanksgiving—probably fewer this year than most, and that is unfortunate and inexcusable in America.
That brings up another message that deserves broader reach—many farmers and ranchers, commodity and farm groups, food manufacturers and companies throughout the chain provide abundant donations to food pantries throughout the nation. There are too many to point to here, but to offer a just modest snapshot, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s “Harvest for All” initiative has provided more than 23 million meals to those in need.
So, enjoy the holiday, help when and where you can, and let others know how valuable your contribution is to all.