Today caps off National Ag Week, and Thursday was National Ag Day, an acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions of our country’s farmers.
This might be news to you, missed amongst the competing news of the week — the college admissions scandal, ongoing political drama, Boeing, Brexit, etc. Our attention is often drawn away from one of the most important parts of our day-to-day lives — food, fiber and the system that supplies it.
Though the official day of celebration has passed, we can still follow through on some key actions that the National Ag Day program encourages every American to take:
1. Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
Get your information directly from the source — farmers themselves. Most farmers are happy to talk about how and why they farm. If you don’t know a farmer, it’s pretty easy to meet one by attending a farmers market, county fair, or farm-to-table dinner. Or consider signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture share this summer to get a regular allotment of fresh food and a closer connection to the farmers growing it. You can find a farm that offers CSA shares at www.farmfreshatlas.org.
2. Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
The U.S. food system is one of the safest in the world, and it may get even safer as farmers take steps to meet requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act, a new set of regulations put in place to help prevent foodborne illness. Our nation’s food security and affordability also rests on the shoulders of farmers. According to the USDA, Americans spent an average of 9.9 percent of their disposable income on food in 2016, less than most other countries and far below what our grandparents spent. For something we need to survive, that 9.9 percent sounds pretty reasonable. While we should be thankful for this, a good deal for consumers isn’t necessarily the best deal for farmers, who receive just 14.8 cents of every food dollar consumers spend. Yet another reason to thank a farmer.
3. Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
Agriculture, food, and related industries contributed over $1 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product in 2016, and accounts for 11 percent of total U.S. employment. Those employed in agriculture also have a big impact on their local economies, spending their earnings at local businesses.
4. Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food, and fiber industry.
This industry offers considerable potential, a sense of purpose, and growing opportunities as agriculture advances with the help of technology. There’s some job security too: people will always need food and clothing. Learn more about jobs in agriculture at www.usda.gov/youth/career.
Leigh Presley is agriculture educator for the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Kenosha County.