After a long, cold winter, spring has finally sprung in this neck of the woods. The sun is shining, the snow is melting, and tiny green leaves are beginning to poke through the brown earth. It’s a seasonal cycle that birds, bees, and bunnies look forward to every year, as do the 1% of folks who grow food for the remaining 99% of us. That’s right, I’m talking about farmers.
The industrial U.S. food system is a thing of absolute wonder. It’s a complex network of machines, synthetic chemicals, and economies of scale that produces a staggering amount of food – enough to provide each American with 3,800 kilocalories every day (U.S. Department of Agriculture), plus countless more that are fed to livestock and/or exported to exotic places across the globe.
And yet less than 1% (!) of Americans identify themselves as farmers. And of those who do, only 45% claim farming as their full-time occupation, meaning that the majority of farmer income is actually earned off-farm. In addition, the average age of U.S. farmers is approaching sixty years old. To put this matter into a historical context, at one point in the early 1900s the vast majority of Americans farmed. But the number of U.S. farms peaked at 6.8 million in 1937, then declined to the current two million. Keep in mind that there are more than 300 million citizens in the United States. (All data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
My point of this blog post is threefold: First, most of us are not actively involved in food production. Second, most of us don’t know a spade from a harrow (meaning that we haven’t got a clue about the time, effort, and energy required to produce food). Third, most of us keep clamoring for cheaper and cheaper food (from farmers who already struggle to make a living working multiple jobs), even as we eat more and more of it.
Food for thought
Please consider the plight of U.S. farmers. Not only for their health, but for your health as well. There is certainly nothing wrong with choosing career paths outside of farming (we need mechanics, doctors, teachers, and plumbers, too), but let’s not forget about the people that literally put food on our table. If you haven’t yet, I strongly suggest volunteering for a day (or more!) at a local farm or community garden. Get to know the people and places that produce your food. The rewards will extend far beyond your belly.