Next week is National Agriculture Week. National Agriculture Day is Tuesday, March 15.
If you don’t mind, humor me just a bit. Each morning, or at least on Tuesday next week, I’d like you to participate in a little exercise. It’ll be very simple and you won’t even have to get out of bed. When you wake up, just lie there and think about how your day would go if it were 100 years ago … March 1916.
Let me help you visualize your day just a bit. Since it is March, there is still a chill in the air, so you will need to go to the woodshed and grab a few logs to put on the fire in the house. Next, you will need to go to the barn and give the horses and cows some grain, hay and water. You will need to fill the chicken feeders and slop the hogs. And you will need to milk the cows … by hand.
Then you will have to gather the eggs and check to make sure the chickens are all healthy. If none of the livestock are sick or injured, you might be able to go to the house to get your own breakfast.
After breakfast, you will likely need to split more wood for the fire for the rest of the day. Or you may hitch the horses and head to the back 40 to begin plowing the field to get it ready for planting. You might also have to work on clearing any tree limbs or dead trees that have fallen along the edges of the field or fill in a gully that had eroded during the last rainstorm.
Depending on the day, you might give the horses a breather at lunch and then hitch them up to the wagon later and head to town to get supplies (livestock feed, fencing repair supplies, a bolt of cloth for some new clothing, etc.). When you get back home, it’ll be time to milk the cows and feed all the livestock again.
And don’t forget to clean out the horse stalls and cow barn – you’ll need to spread manure on the fields before the next tilling.
When you get in for the evening and have had your supper, it’ll be time to sharpen your knife and ax, oil your boots, repair whatever tools you broke today, and more.
Finally, you’ll be ready to heat up some water on the stove and get yourself cleaned up before falling into bed so you can to do it all again tomorrow – with whatever chores didn’t get done today.
You see – back 100 years ago, it was a good chance that you were a farmer and had to do all these activities just to feed yourself, your family and maybe 10 or 20 others. Nearly 40 percent of the population in 1916 was engaged in farming and many more families had livestock around just to feed themselves.
Today, less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is farmers. About 15 percent of the population is engaged in the agriculture industry that provides the rest of us with food, feed, fiber and fuel so that we are free to pursue other careers and opportunities.
Today’s farmers have a vastly different lifestyle than their forefathers from 1916, but the work is just as risky, just as difficult, just as challenging, but most will tell you, just as rewarding. Today’s farmers produce 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.), compared with 1950. By incorporating conservation practices, they have reduced cropland erosion by wind and water by 50 percent just since 1982.
If you want to see more about today’s agriculture, go to http://www.fb.org/newsroom/fastfacts/. For more on old-time farming practices, go out to Preservation Parks’ Gallant Farm Preserve and ask for Farmer Gabe – he’s my nephew. The farm is a 1940s-era farm and visiting is quite an experience.
So while you are nestled all snug in your bed next week, be thankful that we have farmers who work hard to make our food the safest and most affordable in the world. For more info on National Ag Week, go to http://www.agday.org/.
Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at [email protected]