Food for thought

Published 8:09 am Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A farmer in Iowa plants corn in May, fertilizes in June, and three months later, spends 21, 18-hour days harvesting his crop.

It’s hauled to a local granary and shipped by rail to a feedlot in Nebraska. A 750-pound angus steer, born two years earlier, takes a mouthful of that same corn and finds it delicious. After four months, still enjoying his meals, he checks in at 1,200 pounds and heads to market.

A Kansas farmer pulls his seed drill out from under the shelter in September and rolls toward the “Lucas” place. He takes a deep breath pondering the task before him.

Two thousand acres with thunderstorms forecast in three days. The following spring, after babying his crop all winter, he sits in the combine watching the golden kernels crop from the auger into the truck. Four weeks later, those same kernels fall into a bin at Kingsford Mill in Billings, Mont.

Standing up in the hot sun, “Jo Jo” glances out over the San Joaquin Valley. Acres and acres of tomatoes, waiting their turn. He stoops over and resumes his task, hands moving at uncanny speed while his bag slowly fills with the round fruit. Drops of sweat fall to the black soil beneath as the sun continues to climb.

Jim McPhearson was the next in a long line of Wisconsin dairymen. Each father had taught their son the trade and patterned the sacrifices necessary for success. It was 4 a.m. as Jim walked to the barn, the same trek he had made a thousand previous mornings and would make for a thousand more.

Opening the gate, he let his Guernsey cows in to be milked — the smell of cattle awakening his senses. Each animal moved to her spot, awaiting her turn to give the warm, white, delicious liquid.

As the cucumbers rolled off the conveyer into the trailer, Ellen wondered if it would pay the bills. A short crop it had been, and the “cukes” were half their normal size. It had been a dry summer, even for Florida.

Watching them fall into a pile, making their green pyramid, she caught herself thinking of next year. “Maybe the next crop will be better.”

Driving up to the fast food place, Harry Fontaine stepped out of his Mercedes and hastened to the counter. “Hamburger with cheese, tomato, extra pickle.” After three minutes, he glanced at his watch and started tapping his foot. “What the heck is taking so long?” he muttered. “It can’t be that much to it.”

Rex Alphin is a farmer, businessman and contributing columnist for The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is