By Sherry Bunting (Growing the Land in July 3, 2015 Register-Star)
“For our nation, for us all,” read the Marines billboard as I drove through the nation’s heartland. I turned the phrase over in my mind, thinking just what kind of courage, heart, and love of country it takes to serve in our nation’s military.
A rush of thankfulness flooded over me as the tires of my Jeep Patriot (yes, I’ll admit, part of the reason I bought it was the name) ate the miles to the next destination,
and farmland stretched endlessly on either side of the highway.
I whispered ‘thank you.’
Tomorrow, our nation commemorates our Independence Day, and I think of the agrarian roots of Thomas Jefferson, the primary architect of the language so carefully chosen in our Declaration of Independence.
Liberty has proven for 239 years to be more than an ideal worth fighting — even dying — for, it is a condition of life in America that can be misunderstood and taken for granted.
As I drove South this past week, my mind also pondered current events and the battle of Gettysburg turning the tide of the Civil War at this same spot on the calendar. This too is commemorated every July 4th weekend with re-enactments, lest we forget that our unity as a nation stood the test of valor and dignity from both sides — an internal struggle to recommit our nation to the freedom and responsibility of true liberty.
Traveling the country to interview and photograph agriculture from East to West and North to South, I am struck by the diverse beauty of both the land and the people in our United States of America. Diversity, too, is a key attribute of liberty.
Driving the long rural stretches of the prairies from the Midwest through the Great Plains — where one can go hours without see another vehicle — the bigness of this land and its call of freedom is, itself, liberating.
Whether it is the eastern patchwork of small farms living at the fringes of suburbia with subdivisions often sprinkled between them or the western stretches of uninterrupted farmland — nothing speaks the quiet role of agriculture as the backbone of our nation’s liberty quite like hearing the farm report come on the radio several times a day while driving.
Thomas Jefferson once said that, “The earth is given as common stock for man to labor and live on.” He also held high the value of agriculture to the nation’s economy, which remains true centuries later in 2015.
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness,” Jefferson wrote.
These are not idle words. In today’s times of rapidly advancing technology in everything from medicine to manufacturing to entertainment, many of us lack a full understanding of how advancing technology in agriculture ensures the long term sustainability of families farming for generations in the U.S. No other profession requires a business to purchase inputs at retail cost and sell output at wholesale prices. No other profession multiplies a dollar earned as many times throughout the local community.
Ralph Waldo Emerson observed: “The glory of the farmer is that, in the division of labors, it is his part to create. All trade rests, at last, on his activity. He stands close to nature; obtains from the earth the bread, the meat. The food which was not, he causes to be.”
In the East, we see this truth all around us. With over half of the New York State population residing in New York City and the other half throughout the rural lands upstate, the sustainability of food production, jobs and economic vitality rest on the shoulders of farmers as they work close to the land and its animals. In many years, farmers borrow on their equity and spouses take second jobs off the farm to get through years of crashing market prices, rising input prices and drought.
And yet, they continue to pursue efficiencies that allow them to produce ever-more food with less land, water and other natural resources per pound or bushel or ton of raw food commodity.
Farming is a business, and it is also a way of life. The success, ingenuity, work ethic and optimistic spirit of farm families provides the basis for our nation to remain free by remaining self-sufficient in its ability to feed its own people and the world.
“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interest by the most lasting of bands,” said Thomas Jefferson when American democracy was yet in its infancy.
Back to the American flags I see waving from farm silos and along city streets across our country… Throughout the nearly two-and-a-half centuries since our July 4th birthday as a nation, American soldiers come from all walks of life and all regions of the country to protect our freedom. This includes a nearly 2-to-1 ratio of young men and women with roots and boots firmly born of farm and ranch living. That is amazing, considering that less than two percent of our population today is farming for a living.
As we celebrate with fireworks and backyard barbecues this weekend, we can remember who we are and what has challenged us in the past that American men and women sacrifice of themselves to protect liberty, that it may endure and shine light to each new generation.
A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO CAPTION: Happy Independence Day! Sherry Bunting image.