The best way to experience what the farmer goes through is to try to grow your own food

May 25, 2009|By JEFF SEMLER

By the time you read this, you will no doubt be basking in the afterglow of your Memorial Day barbecue or picnic, or however you remember the fallen heroes of this nation.

I will take this opportunity to remind you of the folks who made your chicken wings, pork barbecue, hot dogs, hamburgers or steaks possible.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend and fellow patriot George Washington, "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness."

In a country as prosperous as ours, we often take our abundant food supply for granted, as well as those whose hands provide it.


I was recently made aware of a four-year study sponsored by the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. The report states, "Agriculture can do more than just focus on production. Farming can help supply clean water, protect biodiversity and be managed in a way that manages our soil sustainability."

While that looks like a tall order, agriculture is the largest undertaking on the planet. Thirty-percent of the world's population cultivates the 40 percent of terra firma not locked under ice.

Today in the United States, the average farmer feeds himself and 125 other people. That has allowed our society to prosper as those folks who have left the farm fields have entered the work force in other places, whether it be the boardroom or factory floor.

However, as many have made the transition, many have forgotten their roots. Agriculture built this nation and, in plain fact, the western world. For those not engaged daily in producing food and fiber, I suggest an experiment. Grow some of your own food.

A word of caution here: Start small. You are not trying to feed your family for a year -- you are just trying to get a feel for what it takes to produce food. Regardless of your space constraints, you can grow a tomato in a pot on your porch.

You might not encounter any challenges at all this year or next year, but along the way, you will. You might have even hit a bump in the road this year as the frost the other morning might have burned your tomatoes. You will find out what kind of damage a tomato horned worm can do. You will discover the value of timely rain as opposed to carrying water. You might even find out there is such a thing as too much rain at times and the statistic known as annual rainfall is worthless.

My point is that you will come to appreciate what it takes to produce food. As a side benefit, you will eat the best tomatoes you have ever tasted.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

The Herald-Mail Articles