Let’s trim the (real) tree

While the weather turns colder and exams draw closer, the countdown to the holidays begins. As the Christmas season soon approaches, I want to focus on one aspect of agriculture in the holiday season.

Perhaps the most iconic symbol of this holiday is the Christmas tree. For decades, families have been gathering around the tree to trim it with lights and ornaments and place neatly-wrapped gifts underneath.

In our culture today, it is extremely common to purchase an artificial and reusable Christmas tree. Having used both natural and artificial trees in the past, a real tree seems to add more character to the Christmas season. The sweet smell of an evergreen fills the home for weeks and tree needles fall on the tree skirt below. Little traces such as these remind me of my childhood Christmas celebrations and how each detail remains significant.

As Christmas approaches, I encourage you to buy a real Christmas tree. Not only is it an opportunity to participate in agriculture but purchasing an authentic Christmas tree usually provides a memorable experience. Whether you chop down the tree yourself or not, getting to hand-pick the perfect tree adds to the holiday spirit.

Although Christmas tree farms are typically located in rural areas, many operations now have locations within the city where customers can purchase their tree. Because of this availability, there has been a resurgence of consumers who want to experience the joys of a Christmas tree farm firsthand.

Christmas tree farms and selling locations are located all across the state of Tennessee, so this season, I encourage you to consider buying an authentic tree. If you have done so in the past, what was your experience like in picking out your tree?

Hunters are key in wildlife conservation efforts

In Tennessee, it’s fairly common to see people wearing camouflage clothing or accessories any time of the year. For many of its wearers, however, camouflage is more than just a fashion statement; it’s a uniform.

Although we have discussed various forms of agriculture, we have yet to bring animals to the conversation. Today, we’ll be looking at hunting and how hunters are essential to wildlife conservation practices.

Hunters are required to follow very strict regulations in every state across the nation. In order to legally hunt any game, a hunting license must be purchased, along with permission to hunt on specific property. Depending on the type of game being hunted, hunters are often required to buy additional permits, such as the migratory bird permit. These and other regulatory tools are responsible for the majority of funding for state conservation efforts.

The federal excise taxes paid by hunters each year equate to nearly $200 million; this money is then used by state agencies to aid conservation efforts. An example of how beneficial these costs are can be clearly seen through the revenue of the Federal Duck Stamp, a required form of licensure for hunting waterfowl. That income has been used to purchase over five million acres of land for animal refuge habitats.

Many operations now offer conservation hunting, a practice that takes place on specific ranches of land that hold diverse ecosystems of various animals. On these ranches, the animals are provided better habitats with plentiful resources, giving hunters the opportunity to hunt mature animals rather than weaker ones found in nature. These areas also pay extra attention to hunter safety, so hunters can trust that they are in safe environment.

I know that many people have different views on hunting; what’s your stance on this topic?

Farmers markets offer more than just food to consumers

Along the same lines as last week’s post about CSAs, I wanted to bring farmers markets into view with our efforts to increase agriculture awareness and accessibility.

Farmers markets have experienced a new wave of interest as many consumers are looking for ways to eat fresh, local produce.

Like Community Supported Agriculture programs, farmers markets provide a great avenue for consumers to develop a relationship with the farmers who grow their food; it also serves as a way to connect urban areas to rural. Although city-life can be very appealing, it often provides very little green space for homeowners to use for growing flowers and produce. Farmers markets are a great solution for those who desire fresh goods without the responsibility or space required to grow them.

Farmers markets can vary widely from small-town produce stands to popular hang-outs such as the Nashville Farmers’ Market. Regardless of size, farmers markets are meeting two important demands from consumers—fresh and local produce.

A great source for finding farmers markets all across the state of Tennessee is through the Pick Tennessee Products program. pick_TN_productsThis program is part of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and is “dedicated to connecting people everywhere to Tennessee farms, farmers, farmers markets and all the great things that come from our farms and food businesses.”

Growing up, I can remember visiting farmers markets and being so intrigued by all that surrounded me. Not only are they a great place to find high-quality goods, they can also provide memorable experiences.

If you haven’t been to a famers market before, I encourage you to check one out! If you have been to one, how would you describe your first visit?

One program offers a win-win for both farmers and consumers

Over the past few years, “clean eating” and purchasing fresh, local produce have become a popular way to approach mealtime. One nationwide program has become a leader in combining agriculture awareness with fresh, local produce.

This program seeks to bring fresh produce from farm to table in only a matter of hours. Known as CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, this movement involves a partnership between a consumer and a local farmer to financially support the farming operation and receive fresh produce in exchange.

CSAs were introduced to the United States from Europe in the mid 1980s. This movement has gained momentum over the last several years, especially in urban areas.

Participating in a CSA is not only beneficial to the consumer but also to the grower. Local Harvest lists advantages experienced by both:

Advantages for farmers:
• Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
• Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow
• Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow

Advantages for consumers:
• Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
• Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
• Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
• Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

Customers typically purchase a “share” of the farm to help with costs during the growing season. In return, customers receive a portion of produce repeatedly during the harvest time.

CSAs are a great way to form a relationship with local farmers and learn about seasonal produce. Joining this program not only supports the agriculture industry but also increases agriculture awareness within the community.

CSAs are present all across the country and can be located online.
Would you consider supporting a local agriculture operation by signing up for a CSA?


Rain, rain (don’t) go away

As I’ve been living in my rain boots the past several days, I am reminded of the importance and beauty of rain. Although at times the wet weather can be inconvenient or messy, rain is a gift to the earth that we often take for granted.

Because the majority of our nation no longer identifies themselves as members of a farming society, it’s easy to forget that rain plays an essential role in providing for the needs of all people.

For many of us, it’s not common to think about rain except when it is, well, raining. Another group of people, however, give rain much more thought and consideration. Agriculturists, and especially those who grow and produce our food, recognize how vital it is to receive rain and know that when it is not consistent, consequences may ensue.

These men and women depend on the rain for their livelihood, and as a result, so do we.

In May and October of 2007, Google Trends shows that internet searches for drought reached their highest. Over 40 percent of the United States suffered from moderate to extreme drought conditions.

Drought can quickly affect many people and areas; without receiving enough rainfall, crops can be negatively affected for an entire season or more. When a drought is severe enough, it often results in city-wide water restrictions on things like landscaping and household usage.

Keeping crops and livestock alive and thriving is of the utmost priority for farmers. A general solution to keeping crops well-hydrated (especially in dry-spells) is irrigation, but this method of watering is finite, and the sources can run dry.

Rain simply cannot be replaced. Despite how advanced we have become in every aspect of our lives, we are still dependent upon the water from above.

So, the next time you’re gearing up to walk out in the rain, will you think of it more as a gift to the ground rather than an annoying pattern in the weather?

Seeking a job

As college students, we are constantly reminded of the coming day when we will need to acquire a successful job following graduation.

With this in mind, an important sector of our nation’s workforce is employed in the agriculture industry. Considering all that this industry provides, it will continue to offer many needed jobs for years to come.

For several decades, America was known as a farming society. As the country gradually transitioned to a more industrial society, employment in the agriculture industry significantly decreased. In 1910, farmers made up over 15 percent of the American workforce; however, in 2000, that number had dropped to less than three percent.

Think for a moment if you know an employee of the agriculture industry. Few of us personally know and interact with farmers, but keep in mind that agriculture is more than just growing food. It is clothing, fuel, new technologies and more.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that agriculture and its related industries make up nearly 10 percent of the American workforce. That equates to over 16 million jobs in areas such as farming, forestry, fishing, food manufacturing, food service and textile and apparel manufacturing.

There are numerous opportunities for students of varied degrees to earn positions working in agriculture. Despite various backgrounds or degrees, each of these positions and others work closely together to build a successful industry that supports the livelihood of all people.

Based on this reading, can you think of someone you know who is employed in the agriculture industry but is not a farmer?

Seeing a field of fuel

Through the years, I have taken countless car-trips to various places, many of which have included long stretches of nothing but the highway. While traveling on a seemingly deserted roadway, the spotting of a tall, lit sign served as a beacon of civilization. Most often this sign was for a gas station, a symbol of hope on a long road.

We are a nation that is shaped by its transportation abilities and consequently affected by the fuel that powers those engines.

When we’re asked about what makes those engines run, our immediate thought is typically gasoline. In our ever-advancing society, however, it is no longer the only fuel source for our automobiles.

A growing source of fuel that is now widely produced and comes from plant materials is known as biofuel.

Today, I’ll be sharing a bit of what I have learned about biofuel. It’s a common term that I’ve heard for years but have never taken the time to see how this product of agriculture contributes to daily lives all across the country.

Alternative Energy says, “Biofuel is produced from living organisms or from metabolic by-products (organic or food waste products). In order to be considered a biofuel the fuel must contain over 80 percent renewable materials.”

The most readily-available form of biofuel is ethanol; it is produced mainly from corn and may contain other plant matter. The U.S. Department of Energy says the majority of all gasoline in America contains a low-level blend of ethanol and is available in higher concentration for certain flex-fuel vehicles.

Although it seems like a modern idea to use this product of agriculture to fuel our cars, Henry Ford actually introduced his first automobile to run solely on ethanol 1896. He later introduced the Model T, capable to run on ethanol, gasoline or a mixture of both.

Ethanol has been available now for over a century but was widely reintroduced in 1995 when the EPA began requiring a reformulated version of gasoline in cities with the most pollution.

Because ethanol is a renewable source of energy produced in the United States, it requires less reliance on imported oil and emits a reduced level of greenhouse gas emissions. As technology continues to advance in both the energy and agriculture industries, we can expect to see improvements in current ethanol production and the introduction of new biofuels.

The next time you fill up your car at the gas station, check to see if the gasoline is offered in an ethanol blend. If you drive a newer-model car, do some research to see if it is a flex-fuel vehicle.

With just a closer look, can you see how prevalent the various products of agriculture are and how effective they have become at serving our needs?

Thank a farmer

One of the most common questions to ask a child is, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” Sometimes this question elicits a funny response, but as he or she gets older, it becomes a valid inquiry.

Few careers face as much uncertainty and vulnerability as farming. For those brave enough to enter the field, farming becomes a way of life and often a lifelong commitment.

This week’s post will focus on the men and women who truly serve as the backbone of America’s economy. Farming has been vital to our country from the very beginning, and without their contribution, as I have discussed, we’d be without food and clothing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the number of farms peaked in America in 1935 at 6.8 million farms. Since then, that number has rapidly decreased to a mere 2.2 million farms. At first glance, this doesn’t quite make sense because our population has experienced continual growth, yet our food-growing operations have declined. Thanks to a myriad of advancements in the agriculture industry, America’s farmers now produce more food than ever before with considerably less land.

Despite popular belief that most farming operations are owned by corporations, 87 percent of farms in the U.S. are owned and operated by families and individuals. Of that number, however, only 45 percent of farmers declare farming as their main occupation. This is due to the fact that less than one in four farming operations profit more than $50,000 per year.

Needless to say, farming is not the most lucrative career choice. Because of this, for so many, farming is not simply their occupation, it is their way of life. Becoming a farmer involves a lot of risk, determination and a certain level of self-sacrifice.

My challenge to you this week is to appreciate the farmers who work year-round to supply for your needs. They are much more deserving of our gratitude and recognition than they will ever receive. 6f2373daf4d3441801ef040aee1b7b1d

Check the tag

From a very early age, I can remember learning the difference between a want and a need. A want was something I could live without, but a need qualified as food, water, shelter and clothing.

Agriculture holds a unique tie with each of these necessities, but today I am excited to share some of my findings about clothing and how it is related to agriculture.

Clothing surrounds us on a daily basis, literally. Clothing has become one of America’s largest industries and defines much of the culture in which we live.

Take a look at the tag found in your shirt or jacket. It likely consists of any combination of cotton, polyester or spandex. The latter two materials are synthetic or artificially made.

Until about 60 years ago, all fabric, clothing and textiles were made from natural material. The sources were either plant-based, such as cotton and linen, or animal-based, such as wool and silk. Since then, synthetic materials have been introduced, but cotton has remained a staple within both the agricultural and clothing industries.

Because cotton is such a common and easily-accessible fabric, I have focused my attention on this commodity and how it serves both industries.

The National Cotton Council says that there are over 18,000 cotton farms in the United States. A bale of cotton weighs about 500 pounds, and to put that into perspective, a single bale of cotton can yield over 1,200 men’s tee-shirts.

The cotton industry contributes roughly $100 billion a year to the U.S. economy. As members of a consumer-culture society, there is a great disconnect between the final product, like a tee-shirt, and its natural beginnings.

This week, I encourage you to remember that nearly every article of clothing you own would not exist if it weren’t for the diligence of cotton farmers around the world. Take a moment to check your tags this week and see how agriculture continues to weave in and out of your daily life without even realizing it.

Give it a second thought

It is often said that agriculture is the backbone of America, but how do you picture agriculture? Do you see it as a field of crops that stretches for miles and a hill of grazing cattle? Maybe you think of visiting a farmers market during the summer.

Sure, these are prime examples of agriculture, but what about when you look in your closet?….Do you think about agriculture when you try on new clothes or put gas in your car?

The purpose of this blog is to help my readers recognize the presence and importance of agriculture in daily life.

Each week we will be exploring a new topic that focuses on agriculture in uncommon or unthought of places. As a nation that was once predominantly populated with farmers, we have advanced in formidable ways but have also strayed away from a great deal of knowledge that is at the root of our country’s well-being.

For this week’s post, we’ll start with perhaps the most obvious form of agriculture, food. Although it is linked directly to agriculture, thousands, if not millions, of consumers go through the day without giving much thought to where their food came from.

Farm Policy Facts says that only a mere 210,000 [full-time] farms provide over 80 percent of our food and fiber. For a nation that employs less than 2 percent of its population in agriculture, the majority of us are far removed from understanding the who, what, when, where and how of producing food.

We are suffering from a severe form of agricultural illiteracy. Supporters of National Ag Day emphasize the importance of recognizing agriculture in daily life. As consumers, we need to be more aware of the industry that affects us most and that we know the least about.

This week, I challenge you to give your food a second thought. Ask yourself, “Do I know where this came from?” Do some research to find out facts for your most common food choices.

Whether you live in the plains states of the U.S. or are surrounded by city skylines, every time you eat, you are participating in the world’s largest industry.