Agriculture Awareness Month

March is AG Awareness Month. That means it is a time to connect with our roots. Connect with your roots you say? What if you have no agricultural roots?

There are many people these days interested in genealogy. It is my guess that if you go back far enough in your heritage you just may find that you do have agricultural roots after all. In the early days of our country most of the settlers were involved with agriculture. The early settlers found land, cleared it, and worked it. After a number of years it was theirs, a deed said so.

Even if you are devoid of agricultural roots, you certainly are involved with agriculture because you and your family eat. Without farmers there would be nothing to eat. It takes someone to plant seeds and see them through to maturity. It takes someone to see that the young are born safely and animals mature to the point of being market ready.

There are those who only eat vegetables and those who eat both meat and vegetables. Either way, you depend on a farmer. Nothing grows by itself these days. I make no judgment call as to which of these policies is healthier. Even if you only consume grains and vegetables, the plant must die or be harvested before it can be consumed.

Little did I think when I grew up that I would have such a vested stake in agriculture. We bought our groceries at a store. We had a small garden. We went to the nearby farms to buy directly from the producer. Our lifestyle depended on the farmers.

When I married I got to see the inside of the agricultural market place. Our livelihood depended on the markets being favorable. Farming is not a high paying job, but it is one that is truly satisfying. My husband and family worked hard to make a living. There were no days off. The cows had to be milked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. It did not matter if you were sick. There were no such things as sick days. You went to the barn and did the best you could. The chores might have taken you a couple hours longer on those days when you did not feel well, but the animals were fed and taken care of.

I knew very little about farming when I got married. I knew that milk came from cows – if you recall my mother worked at a dairy. I knew that seeds had to be planted and cared for. I soon realized just how much work was involved in the whole process as I watched my lifestyle change.

Finding a place to live was dependent on the animals. My husband had to live close to the farm. We watched everything that went up for sale around the neighborhood. We knew we had to live nearby.

Hickory Heights is my husband’s legacy. We lost the barn to arson, we believe, so farming up here was not an option. It was to be the place where we raised our family. It was home.

The distance between Hickory Heights and the barn was at times a prohibitive distance. Although we lived just up the road my husband could not always make it home for meals or at best he came late. When the calves were being born it meant trips to the barn to check on things. When you have been outside on a cold night you do not just come home and fall asleep. You are cold and wide awake.

I think everyone should have to raise their own food for a season. Yes, they might buy the necessities such as flour, salt and sugar, but everything else should have to come from their small plot of land. The big executives would find they had less time for the luxuries of life. Even two income families would struggle with weeds and the weather.

Growing things is not simple. You invest a lot of money in seeds or plants and then depend on Mother Nature for a good year. You battle the weeds and the pests all the while knowing that whatever you grow is going to be consumed by your family. You want the best quality product that you can produce. You do not want your food riddled with pesticides and chemicals. You can supplement with water from your hose, but there is nothing like a healing rain. The water goes deeper into the soil when it comes naturally.

The farm population is now below 2 percent of the United States population. That is scary. What if those 2 percent get tired of the hard work or are financially unable to stay in business? When farms are sold they cease production creating idle land. Farm land cannot remain idle without changes occurring. Nature takes over; first, there is a covering of weeds, then comes the berry briars, followed by the growth of trees. The tillable land is gone forever.

Remember how our ancestors began? Trees were cut to allow cultivation. The land goes full circle.

Today’s farmers are in trouble financially, paying increased prices for raw materials and higher production costs. At the same time the wages reflect the 60s and 70s. Farmers have a very narrow margin of profitability. If you see a farmer who appears to be doing well you can bet that farmer is a terrific business manager.

The campaign has been buy fresh, buy local. That is increasingly difficult. The laws that are being passed make it harder and harder for the little guy to sell his products without jumping through a lot of government imposed hoops. The farmer’s market may be different this season. Some producers may choose not to go through those annual inspections and pay those increased costs of production. People who produce food for sale even have to have water tests. It just may not worth the trouble.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.