Thanksgiving week is often one filled with the intense pursuit of good food and a lot of it. If you are a retailer or distributor getting that food to the customer is a frantic and feverish once-a-year choreography. Stacking, packing and wrapping those cartons of yams, mountains of green beans and gaggles of turkeys are a major endeavor! For those brave souls constructing the many coursed feast, it requires hours of planning, shopping, chopping and mopping up all the gravy at the end. No rest for the multitudes of hungry and thankful souls.
Yet as we gather to feast with family and friends let us have gratitude for the farmers from whom this bounty springs forth. Without their agrarian efforts the magnificent abundance of fine holiday fare would not grace our tables.
I have huge appreciation for the challenges farmers face each day. The seasons change but the producers of our food grapple with the same issues year after year. Being a farmer is largely a thankless job. A job completely unrecognized in that delicious scrumptious plate of delectable cuisine. Farmers take risks represented in each bite of our thanksgiving feast.
If the heart of your meal revolves around a turkey, ham or roast of beef, those livestock producers have ridden a virtual bucking bronco for the past few years. This year turkey production is at its lowest level in nearly three decades as are most areas of livestock production. Stocks were drastically cut after the widespread 2012 drought in an attempt to curb losses. There are fewer birds while farmers are still using up feed that they bought in the wake of the drought. This left over feed costs much more than the current market price making it doubly hard to make a profit. Not to mention the threat of bird and swine flu mixed up with super bugs; it’s always a leap of faith when producing living, breathing beings for one’s livelihood.
Those cranberries on your plate came from a sandy bog nestled in the cool northern latitudes. The bogs are flooded and floated, and the berries are frozen before the piquant sauce ever graces our plates. Alas, cranberry growers are facing a huge oversupply in the market this year. Prices are down sharply as a result, making it almost impossible to break even on this year’s floating harvest.
The yams, green beans, mashed potatoes and apples in your strudel were all picked and packed by agricultural workers who are likely immigrants from another country. Many areas of agricultural depend on immigrant workers. They are essential to producers in states such as North Carolina, California and Florida where undocumented workers are needed to harvest fruits and vegetables. It is estimated that we may be depending on as many as 1.75 million individuals living and “working here illegally” in agriculture alone. These growers struggle every season to find the work force to harvest, wash, pick and pack our food. President Obama’s recent decision to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation will likely provide relief to only a small fraction of the many toiling in agriculture.
Farmers in the Midwest who just last year enjoyed high corn and soy prices are now suffering low farm-gate pricing due to a worldwide oversupply. Organic corn and soy prices remain higher at more than triple conventional prices but then yields are lower and the risk of GMO contamination is high. That organic cornbread isn’t going to cost you less because of the many risks organic producers must endure.
Weather, water, labor, disease and market conditions are all obstacles farmers must face. They toil through excessive heat and winds, flooding, blizzards, hail, wildfires, lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, and diseases. Increasingly the loss of honeybees, due to colony collapse disorder is an issue for nuts, fruits and vegetable farmers.
So true Wendell Berry, in Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food says: “Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.”
Someone once told me that farming is a glorified form of gambling. Gambling it may be, rooted in the soil, the very essence of place these men and women live close to the earth and her elements so that we may eat. Please share a moment of gratitude this week for their perseverance and commitment. For without them we would not eat.