Tis the season of giving and while family and friends tend to top most peoples’ lists, it may be time to broaden that thinking—especially for agriculture.

I know that there is no shortage of groups clamoring for holiday donations, and everyone has preferences and priorities. Agriculture as a whole has been a good steward when it comes to donating goods and services. Many state pork producer groups periodically donate hundreds, even thousands, of pounds of pork to food pantries at the holidays and other times of the year. Companies like Smithfield Foods or Cargill regularly step up to ship semi-loads of food for a worthy cause.    

No question, the need for food and other donations in the United States is growing. Not only is unemployment stuck around the 9 percent mark, many of those folks have been out of work for nine, 12, even 18 months. Home foreclosures remain at all-time highs. Who hasn’t watched the news and seen reports about how supplies at food pantries are dwindling and demand is rising?

You may be tightening your financial belt as well, but there are other ways to give, and ways to make it work for you personally and professionally.

Farmers certainly don’t get enough credit for feeding the masses everyday—sometimes at an economic loss. Modern agriculture not only doesn’t get credit, it gets criticized. But by donating food as well as volunteering time and personnel, you can start to change that dynamic.

Maybe your state pork producer association donates pork, and that’s a good thing to participate in, but there’s merit in doing it on your own too. Local exposure always carries tremendous impact. Perhaps you commit five or 10 pigs to a local service, or choose instead to provide X pounds of ground pork or hams. You also can get family and employees involved in volunteering at a food pantry or serving dinners or delivering food packages. Hey, make it a quarterly requirement or provide a reward for those who do.

Display your farm’s name and logo at the time or include a brief informational card with the packaged pork.

It’s okay to get some credit; I’m not talking about making a big effort to blow your horn, but it is an opportunity to inform people and show them the truth about your business and the type of caring people who work with your animals.

Papers like to run stories about the “local food movement” these days. You may not be what they have in mind, but you’re a food provider (and employer) in your local area and there needs to be a reality check on that issue as well.

Another option is to skip a gift exchange, and instead pick a charity to donate to, or put out a donation jar and involve everyone in picking a charity.

Now, this year’s holiday season may already be busy enough for you, so it may not be doable for 2011. Truth is food pantries often get a boost this time of year only to be left to languish in the months ahead. Sit down with your family, employees or even neighboring pork producers and draw up a plan for 2012.    

I know, you’ve had a volatile year in the markets and the uncertainty isn’t over. In the end, 2011 has been a decent year for you and 2012 looks to be similar. Domestic consumers have been pretty good to you in keeping demand for your product strong. Showing your generosity can build on that when people are standing in front of the meat case deciding what to take home.

Donating food and volunteering is a win/win for everyone involved, you and the recipients. Such actions can make a lot of people feel good; and you can send a clearer message out about who you are and what you do.

It may seem like a small ripple in a big pond, but it also can radiate out and have a big impact-- it can in fact change lives and attitudes.