The Edmond Sun

October 12, 2012

American agriculture inspires awe, appreciation

Mike Hinkle
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — For thousands of years, humans measured their survival chances by gauging nature’s bounty at harvest time. For the bulk of man’s time on this planet, his existence was precarious. There’s no way to number the people, the communities, the civilizations that disappeared simply because crops failed. From the moment mankind discovered the miracle of agriculture, he has realized that labor alone will not insure nature’s bounty. Yes, labor is required, but without the blessings of uncontrollable, outside nourishing powers, there is no guarantee.

This is on my mind this week as I’m traveling through vast expanses of farmland witnessing the incredible powerhouse of American agriculture. Thousands of hard-working men and women are breaking their backs racing the elements in an all-out sprint to gather the hay, wheat, corn, sunflowers, apples, sugar beets and a host of other crops while the weather holds.

Fields and country roads are thick with powerful machines able to bear the crushing harvest burdens that once bent and destroyed the bodies of men and women who had no choice but to do this work with their bare hands or primitive tools. Even after the sun sets, reapers and combines remain in the fields gathering crops with the help of electric lights.

Entire communities pour out of their homes, schools and businesses to join hands in this enormous seasonal endeavor that determines whether the community will prosper this year. Each year these communities miss the strong hands of those who labored so long in the past and now are gone. They watch with pride as their young men and women step up to take their place as co-laborers doing their part to contribute to the welfare of them all.

It is no exaggeration to say that these American farm workers are the mightiest workforce on Earth. I have seen the tiny plots of African and Middle Eastern land tended by every member of the family regardless of youth or age using the most primitive tools, irrigating by water hauled manually from river or well. These Third World farmers battle pests and elements every day clinging to the hope that there will be a harvest capable of providing enough nutrition to help keep the family alive.

While in this great country, millions of acres of farmland receive life-giving water delivered by irrigation systems that are wonders of modern engineering.

The ingenuity of American farmers has elevated agriculture to a powerhouse never imagined by our hard-working forefathers. Though an increasing quantity of our produce is now imported from abroad, there was a time when it was the American farmer, inventing, refining and broadcasting revolutionary agricultural machinery and techniques that fed the Americans and much of the world. The best farming practices employed around the globe today are patterned on innovations pioneered by American farmers.

A few days ago, in South Dakota, I parked beside a field of harvest-ready sunflowers and watched a gargantuan John Deere Harvester cut down the tall stalks, extract the seeds and send them in a great shower onto a transport vehicle driving alongside. I learned that our sunflower crop this year promises to be bountiful and things are going so well that the harvest may be weeks ahead of schedule. Everywhere in North and South Dakota, people were working hard, but spirits were high. There will be celebrations and rejoicing when this year’s harvest ends.

I am writing this column from a hotel room in Hayward, Wisconsin. I spent yesterday in the apple growing region of Minnesota where I planned to take part in the festivals celebrating their harvest. Spirits are not so high there. This year’s crop was hard hit by an early warm snap followed by a bitter freeze. Some Minnesota orchards suffered as much is a 70 percent loss. But it is one of the great qualities of the American farmer that they bear this year’s hardship with the certain knowledge that next year will be better.

Each time I have the opportunity to witness, first hand, the amazing marvel of American agriculture, I develop a greater appreciation for American farmers. We owe it to these people, these communities and ourselves to look at the labels on the products we buy. It’s not enough that they work hard and are blessed with bountiful crops if there is no market for their produce.

Without our support, the day may come when the wonder and blessing of American agriculture will be in the hands of foreign growers and corporations. With small efforts and minimal expenditures, we can patronize our family-owned American farms. Before we buy, let’s look at the labels. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.



MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.