There are lots of high-fives and huzzahs going around on social media today celebrating agriculture, thanking farmers and ranchers, and extolling the virtues of the food and fiber they produce. If Hallmark were remotely interested in agriculture and National Ag Day we’d be sending cards and calling the family back home, but it seems Hallmark’s not quite that into it. Seems a shame given that so much of our everyday lives depend on agriculture and farmers and ranchers.
That said, what does National Ag Day and agriculture really mean to the rest of America these days? What do they mean to you? I have to admit I don’t know, so to commemorate National Ag Day today, I’ll talk about what I do know: what it means to me. Maybe that will spark something in you. Then you can go hug a farmer or buy steak and potatoes or tofu or something. You really should, you know.
Agriculture is about more than food or the clothes I wear. It’s more than listening to Paul Harvey intone about God and farmers, more than seeing a glorious photo of a farmer on a tractor or in a Ford truck, or a buckeroo trailing cows across a vast sagebrush sea. No, when I stand up to celebrate agriculture, I’m remembering a way of life that I wouldn’t give up for all the fancy shows and Jimmy Choo shoes in New York City. A way of life I shouldn’t have given up so easily when I left the ranch. A way of life that’s rapidly disappearing.
Agriculture is the intangible essence of my long lost Western heritage, it’s cobbled together long ago experiences and precious memories. Agriculture is about my second grade class coming to my house on a field trip to see baby animals and being bustin’-my-buttons proud. It’s about staying up late to make sure the place looks presentable (to my mother) when I’d rather sleep.
It’s about showing livestock at the fair and falling for some boy I know I’ll never see again who takes me on the Tilt a Whirl and steals a little kiss. It’s about the happiness (and disappointment) of winning first, second, or third place. About running into the Home Ec exhibit hall to learn my cookie bars got Best of Show. It’s about my broken heart on Sunday night when I have to leave the fairgounds without my lamb.
It’s about my parents bringing home bee hives and me getting stung when they come off the truck. It’s about plucking hard green pears out of the orchard, wiping them off on my shirt and eating them to the nub. It’s about galloping my horse along the creek next to the neighbor’s vineyard (without getting caught but oblivious to the tracks we leave behind). It’s about living eight miles out of town with no TV reception or sidewalks. Just lots of dusty trails and a cool clear river to swim in.
Agriculture is about smudge pots and wind machines in the winter and worrying about market prices in the fall. It’s about helping in the lambing barn on a rainy cold January morning, about learning to drink Sanka huddled up next to a space heater in the barn office. It’s about watching a dying lamb’s ribs move up and down while he takes his last breaths still covered in remnants of his birth sac. It’s about hoeing weeds between rows of Christmas trees in 105 degree weather, about drinking the left-over tepid water from a dirt-covered bottle at the end of a long row, flapping my sweaty shirt to get air moving underneath it, and throwing myself down in the shade of a huge oak. It’s about almost stepping on Rattlesnakes and telling the stories over and over to anyone who will listen.
Agriculture is about going to barbeques where men drink beer and laugh heartily while tending well-seasoned lambchops over a pit, women bake potatoes and make up great big gallon jugs of Ranch dressing. It’s about drooling over fabulous desserts that will be auctioned off to benefit the local 4H club (but never to my parents). It’s about hundreds of city folks packed into the rodeo stands watching sheepdog trials the likes of which I see every day out my bedroom window (only Dad yells louder at his dogs at home than they do).
Agriculture is about personal responsibility, hard work, and learning about the ups and downs of life. It’s about the people who work, live, laugh, and love while producing food and fiber for a sometimes ungrateful nation. National Ag Day should be about our heritage as well as our products. About taking a day to tell others what ag means to us and should mean to everyone lest they like Hallmark forget or don’t care and our nation perishes. We should be expanding, not contracting agriculture and agricultural lands.
How foolish to villanize farmers and ranchers, to develop ag land, and outsource our lifeblood. Food and fiber. Good people. Good memories. Agriculture. Happy National Ag Day. I hope you’ll take a moment to share what it means to you in the comments below.