COLUMN: Thankful for American agriculture
Published 9:26 pm Friday, March 24, 2023
In July of 2016, I arrived on a late flight into Nashville, Tennessee. After gathering my luggage, I walked out of the airport to the area where the taxis were lined up. As I climbed into one of the cars, I asked the driver to take me to my hotel downtown, and together we embarked on a journey that I will always remember.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, the driver glanced at me in the mirror and asked, “What brings you to Nashville?” I explained to him that I was in town for the final session of the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation Peanut Leadership Academy. He was very interested to find out that I was a peanut farmer, and I also became very intrigued when I learned he knew a lot about growing peanuts as well. Then, he held up a container of peanuts he had in his cup holder, and he told me they were his favorite snack! He explained that he was born in Nigeria and had lived there for most of his life. He legally immigrated to the United States about five years ago, but all of his family still lived in Nigeria. Most of his family members were farmers and they lived in a very poor area. They typically only grew enough food to eat, but on good years they would have extra crops to sell at the market. I listened intently as he told me the story of his humble journey from Africa to America. The part that will stick with me forever was his description of his first experience in an American grocery store. “When I saw how much food was in there, I fell to my knees and began to cry. People in America have no idea how blessed they are to have access to so much food,” he said. “If there was one thing I wish my family could see, it is just how much food we have over here.”
We probably could have talked all night but by the time our conversation came to end, we had already been sitting in front of my hotel for several minutes. As I stepped out of the car I shook his hand and handed him a nice tip. It did not take me long to realize that I was the one who had actually received the best tip that night. I paused for a minute as I looked around at all of the tall buildings, the cars passing by, and the people walking along the busy streets. Then I thought to myself, “If there was one thing I wish my fellow Americans could see, it is just how much food we have over here.” To this day, I am thankful that God lined up that taxi ride for me. I do not remember the driver’s name, but I will never forget his story.
The United States is home to the largest, safest, and cheapest food supply in the world. The average person in the U.S. is now at least three generations away from the family farm. America’s farmers and ranchers make up only 1% of the population but they produce enough food for 100% of the population. In fact, the average farmer in the U.S. now feeds about 165 people. As a result, most Americans will never learn how to plant a seed, visit a farm, or worry about where their next meal will come from. In comparison, approximately 25% of the world’s population is classified as “subsistence farmers,” which simply means people who farm for survival. For Americans, the days of farming for survival are likely behind us but we should never take that for granted. Hunger is real, food insecurity is real, and the importance of agriculture to the future of the world is also real.
As our population continues to grow, the efficiency and output of America’s farmers will also continue to grow in order to meet the demand. However, the percentage of people who are actively involved in the agriculture industry will continue to shrink. During National Agriculture Week, I hope that consumers will learn more about farming and where their food comes from. We should never forget that all of the foods we enjoy eating can be traced back to a farm, whether it was grown in a field or raised in a barn. We should also never take the luxuries we have for granted, including our cheap and abundant food supply. For most Americans, walking into the grocery store to pick up a few items is considered a minor inconvenience. However, for millions of people around the world, it would be considered a life changing experience. I do not know about you, but I am thankful for American agriculture!
Westley B. Drake is a farmer and agriculture advocate from Newsoms. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.