An Icon Among Many
We're in the midst of the busiest travel season of the year, when people throughout the country make their way home by planes, trains, and automobiles, to spend the holidays with family and friends.
If travelers happened to be flying American Airlines during this Thanksgiving holiday, they may have read about another woman who went back to her roots to see, well, its roots.
Cathy Booth Thomas, South Dakota native and writer for the in-flight American Way Magazine, discussed her trip back home in the article American Heroes, where she spent some time with several farmers throughout South Dakota, in order to show her appreciation and gain some understanding of that forgotten icon: the American farmer.
Home to 44 million acres of land in farms, South Dakota boasts a thriving agricultural industry, worth $19 billion for the state alone. Among the 17 million acres planted to field crops each year, corn, wheat and soybeans dominate with nearly 13 million acres planted, producing nearly $5 billion in directs sales in 2009.
But farming isn't all production and profits.
"...Did I mention the unpredictable weather? The gyrating markets?" Thomas writes after spending the day with a farming family in Bowdle who had just invested $300,000 in a new harvester that may or may not be necessary in the coming year.
While there have been significant advances that have made agriculture more efficient, it is an industry that will always be susceptible to events out of anyone's control.
When natural disaster strikes, or the markets take a sudden turn, a strong farm safety net is what these South Dakota families rely on to keep them in business and food on our tables.
Agricultural exports are projected to bring in more than $107 billion this year, up 11 percent from 2009. That's a much-needed economic engine and jobs creator that Washington should strive to protect, yet some policy makers continue to promote fixing the one thing that's not broken.
"You eat Cheerios or Wheaties? You eat our grain," stated Evan Harr who farms the 160 acres of land that Thomas's family used to own in the 1930s, a good start to the 7,000 acre target which he hopes to farm efficiently one day. "You eat ham, steak, pork or chicken? Well, it was probably raised on our feed."
And, "That turkey you're going to eat this Christmas?" Thomas continues. "Fattened on soybean meal. It's the world's primary source of protein, consumed not only by you but also possibly by your pet and by that piece of farm-raised fish you may be thinking of having for dinner."
The products of U.S. farming are so essential in our daily lives but unfortunately, some have lost sight of this and who makes it all happen.
That's why Cathy Booth Thomas's work is so important.
Because it is our hope that the day never comes when the farmers of South Dakota join the ranks of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. We need to appreciate and promote the role they play today so that we're not waxing nostalgic at their memorial tomorrow.