Quinn on Nutrition: Appreciating agriculture

March 28, 2016

As I drove into town with my grandkids in tow, I was struck with the beauty of spring emerging around us. Pastures dotted with newborn calves and their grazing mothers gave way to greening fields of winter wheat — the first crop of the season. 

I pointed out the changing landscape to my granddaughter and she began to chatter about grass and flowers. 

What makes grass and flowers grow? I quizzed.

She thought a moment and said, "Dirt. And water. And…sunshine!" 

Pretty good answer from a 3 year-old.  

Living in an agricultural community has given me a better appreciation for the work involved to produce our food. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation, less than 2 percent of our population produces enough food to feed our entire country. That’s close to 150 people each farmer in America feeds in addition to his own family. In comparison, an American farmer in the 1960’s produced enough to feed just 25 people.

Why the shift? Blame it on shrinking farmland and fewer young people choosing careers in agriculture. Although most (95 percent) farms in the U.S. remain family owned and operated, farming techniques are more sophisticated and precise to meet the demands of our growing population, say experts. As a result, 90 percent of those who grow our food are college educated.

Here in the heartland, I’m intrigued with how farmers and ranchers work together to sustain their precious land and animals from year to year. After a farmer harvests his corn crop in the fall, for example, he makes his field available for pregnant cows from a nearby ranch. During the colder winter months, the cows then glean the remains of leftover corn husks and stalks to supplement their higher energy needs of pregnancy.

As winter wanes, the rancher moves his pregnant herd back to home pastures to begin calving season, leaving behind well-fertilized land for the farmer to disk back into the soil for spring planting. As my granddaughter says, "Ta-daaa!"

An excellent article in the spring issue of Western Harvest — a publication for farmers and ranchers — makes these important points about modern agriculture: 

"Farming and ranching take place in the real, physical world, in nature’s — not man’s reality. It cannot be otherwise. Mankind cannot ‘make’ food. We can’t ‘make’ plants and animals. We can only cultivate what nature provides. If we violate nature’s rules, we fail." 

American farmers and ranchers have the skills, ability and experience to produce food in such a way as to protect and nurture ecosystem resources with incredibly high degrees of sustainability, this article states. "And American consumers will pay far less for this bounty than any other group of consumers on the planet." 

I am thankful for that.




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