Gaining knowledge about agriculture a nourishing venture

April 09, 2013|By JEFF SEMLER |
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

In addition to working with farmers, I often get the opportunity to speak to professional and civic organizations locally and in other states.

Many times I am asked questions by someone who has read something or seen a video clip or movie produced by people with agendas. While there is nothing wrong with watching or reading such things, the problem is the average reader or watcher has no foundation of knowledge through which to filter the information.

We have come to a point in our society where we are on average three generations from the farm. There was a time when every young person spent time each summer with their dad, granddad, uncle or neighbor pitching bales, feeding calves or picking up rocks.

Today, they are more likely to be texting, playing video games or sports.

There is a cost to this lack of knowledge, and misinformation is part of it.

The biggest casualty, however, often is civility.

My hope is with information, most of that can be avoided, since we have a big job ahead of us as we continue to be the leader in feeding the world.

One of the things that lack of knowledge has caused is the evolution of our language and how many people allow perception to drive their thinking.

At one point, a person like myself would have earned a degree in animal husbandry, which even sounds warm and caring. However, in the late 1960s or early ’70s, that didn’t sound sophisticated enough, so in an effort to make agriculture seem more academically rigorous, the name was changed to animal science.

Nothing but the name changed.

No matter what your degree said, you still took chemistry, biology, biochemistry and physics, as well as your specialization requirement subjects such as physiology, nutrition and species-specific management courses.

The unintended victim was perception.

Whether you call it science or husbandry, all good farmers treat their animals humanely, which is not to be confused with treating them like they are human.

I often am asked by those who hear my talks how they can help.

First, a friend shared this from a group called Grow Food Not Lawns: “Friends don’t let friends grow lawns.”

While I share some of the sentiment, I am not sure that is the complete answer.

I want to share some thoughts of one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry:

First, participate in your own food production as much as you can. Only by growing your own food can you begin to understand what it takes to get something from field to the kitchen.

Next, prepare your own food. This will take learning or reviving the kitchen arts.

Learn what is involved in best farming and gardening practices, and from where your food comes. Most fresh foods have labels of origin.

Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener or orchardist. Not only will the food be fresher, but they are a wealth of knowledge.

By learning through direct observation and experience, you will become a better consumer and in the long run, a better citizen.

I guarantee you when eating becomes less about consuming calories and more about the food, you will not only be nourished, you will be fulfilled.

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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