Farmers have served their country

September 13, 2011|By JEFF SEMLER |

Ten years ago Sunday was a day just like Dec. 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy. Sept. 17, 1862, was a day that still echoes through the corridors of time for us in Washington County. The area will mark that day on Saturday.

What do any of these dates really have in common?

What they have in common is how the people affected responded. This sleepy valley was busy being a part of the bread basket of the nation in 1862. Wheat and barley dominated the cropping of most farmers, and the mills that dotted the streams and creeks of the area ground the grain into flour for export down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal or over the National Pike.

In the Civil War, just like in World War II, most of the soldiers were rural lads from farms and small towns where ties to agriculture were strong. The interesting thing is today is not much different. According to my research, 17 percent of the U.S. population is rural, yet more than 40 percent of the military is comprised of rural sons and daughters.

What is it that makes these young people want to give themselves to service? I have an idea and it all goes back to our agricultural roots. No, not every one of those soldiers is a farmer, but they are like tea bags; they don’t change the water, they color and flavor it.

You might not have been raised on a farm, but your parents or grandparents probably were. Or they were like me, working on local farms during summer breaks from high school and college.

What did they learn through this experience? Did they learn how to slop hogs or milk cows or stack hay? Yes they probably did. But more importantly, they learned life lessons.

They learned the so-called circle of life with the birth of calves and the death of sows. They learned a work ethic where your result depended on your effort. They learned responsibility because the livestock depended on you to make sure they had feed and clean water.

They also learned service. Many a time folks have pulled together and harvested a neighbor’s crop because they were injured or milked a neighbor’s cows because the family lost their barn in a fire.

There is a certain camaraderie in the countryside that I don’t believe is enjoyed in the urban centers, and yes, I am biased.

Whether you are actively involved in agriculture or not, you are influenced by it if you live in rural America.

So I leave you with two quotes from our forefathers:

From Daniel Webster: “When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.”

And lastly, from Thomas Jefferson: “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural.”

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

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