Monday, April 9, 2012

Humankind’s First Harvest

The Bible tells the story about humankind’s first harvest: In the Garden of Eden, Eve plucked an apple or some kind of fruit from its tree and offered it to Adam. So why did they eat from the Tree of Knowledge? We think we know—guised as a serpent, a cunning Lucifer sweet-talked Eve into committing the Original Sin. However, maybe she was just hungry and needed to satisfy her stomach rumblings. Maybe Adam got cranky when he didn’t eat, and Eve didn’t want to deal with his attitude.

Whether Catholic, Jewish, Amish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic or one of a hundred other religions, we all depend on agriculture. Yet it was four years ago when I finally woke up and realized that I relied on farmers and ranchers for survival.

When I think back on my agriculturally illiterate life, I feel embarrassed—much like Adam when he and Eve were banished from paradise. Can you believe it? I spent over half my life eating food and wearing clothes and never once thought about who produced them. Grocery stores and malls would have been my answers had you asked me where food and fiber came from. Talk about the epitome of agricultural ignorance.
But here I am sharing my story with you. And that’s what agvocacy is all about.

How I got within the Agrosphere well, I owe it all to education. Until my return to college in 2008, I played baseball in the SF Giants minor leagues. If anyone depended on agriculture it was me, for I used a glove and a ball made from steer hide, I swung bats made from wood and resin, I played on turf-grass in stadiums built with concrete and wood, and I fueled my performance with protein powders and meaty meals. You’d think once my baseball career ended I’d a waved bye-bye to my addiction to agriculture. Nope. When I was back inside the classroom, I still encountered agriculture every day.

In an advanced composition class the teacher assigned this book  by Peter Singer, The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. If you haven’t read it then I suggest you do; it provides perspectives on why animal extremists believe their dietary choices are supreme. The book will also force you to ask the same questions about contemporary agriculture that I did. Thing is, I read it in a class that had nothing to do with agriculture! I’m so happy I read it because it was the catalyst that sparked my quest for truth about our food system.

In telling you this, my mission is to start conversations about agriculture—with everyone. It might seem crazy that I believe everyone should join the movement to celebrate choice in our food marketplaces. Really it’s not too far-fetched though. What’s even crazier is I embody the type of consumer that agriculture has been targeting during its proactive campaign to raise awareness and increase agriculture literacy among disconnected consumers living next door and beyond. Because I grew up a city slicker, you might label me an “outsider,” a guy who has no business expressing his emotional bond with food, fiber, farmers, and ranchers. But as an agvocate, a.k.a, a farmer of information, my role is crucial to continur agricultural sustainability.

Even if considered an outsider to an industry that has been and is widely known as traditional, conventional, and conservative, I am proof that anyone can find a place in Agrosphere. Anyone with an honest desire to learn about food and fiber production can become an ambassador for those who we depend on every day.
Alls I’m saying is, when it comes down to it, your spiritual beliefs should complement the connection we share with agriculture, even more so when it comes to supporting American family farmers and ranchers. Besides family, what we eat and wear are the most important things in our lives (some would argue food, clothes, and shelter are more important).

Anyway, please, never stop asking questions about our food and fiber production. But, please, go to the right people: Talk to farmers and ranchers because they are the experts.

I’m glad you stayed with me this far, and I hope you make agriculture your true religion. Rather than argue about whose food is naturally healthier, or contend whose fiber is environmentally safer, let’s cultivate our Gardens of Eden.

No matter what production method you use to produce food and fiber, let’s support the men, women, and children who provide us with the chance to celebrate life.

Blog writer: Anthony Pannone

Monday, April 2, 2012

Agriculture Transforms Lives

“Chicos, Qué es esto?”
“¿Cómo se dice en inglés?”
Their little brown faces beamed. They believe English is the language that will make them wealthy and successful. This intelligence could enable them to communicate with the world and provide for their families. Their lives are bleak and their futures are dim without any education, especially in agriculture. Some don’t have parents. Some have parents, but they only make 2Q’s a day, equivalent to twenty cents. We have the world placed at our feet; we are freely given education. Knowledge is power. We have this power and most of us had no idea how much we abuse it.
With grandparents as ranchers, a horticulturist for a mom, a dad who works in agricultural economics, I naturally grew up showing steers, extremely involved in 4-H, and creating many floral arrangements for various events and weddings. However, I was independent and my peers at school did not agree that agriculture was an essential to life like my family, so I attempted to ignore anything agricultural related for a long time. It was not until went to Guatemala and witnessed how agriculture can transform communities for the better.
My mind focuses again on the present; the children laughing at how the new word sounds. I tell them to go and teach their families when they return home from school. Their shining eyes sparkle as they take in my advice. I look around. Their school building is fragile and falling apart. A stack of old student desks are rotting in a pile of the courtyard corner. The classrooms have no air conditioning and no electrical lighting. Two classrooms adjacent to each other share the same teacher. They paid to go here. The clock strikes five o’clock and school is over. The students rush to the antique wooden doors that keep them off the rocky street outside.  I stand in the courtyard, watching them leave. I look up at the sky; it is a foggy gray over the distant mountains. My eyes rain unfathomable tears of sadness. This is all they know. I look at the Earth below their feet; it is green and alive. Maybe they will know now what seasons they can grow certain crop? Maybe they will remember the plants we discussed? Maybe they will want to use the makeshift water filters the school taught them how to make? Maybe they will actually share the knowledge learned at school with their families? There is hope.
The past two summers, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel with the Borlaug Institute at Texas A&M University to administer agriculture education through the junior master gardener program to children and communities in Guatemala. I discovered how Norman Borlaug, namesake and inspiration for the Institute, was honored the Nobel Peace Prize just by studying how to more effectively grow wheat, an essential element to peoples’ daily diets. Wheat! His studies in agriculture saved the lives of millions! Unfortunately, there are still millions living in poverty. The Guatemalan people suffer from many treatable health problems that most American’s are easily treated for, such as diarrhea and influenza. Their streets are filled with trash and like many developing countries foreign visitors can get sick from eating their produce or drinking the water. Sadly, Guatemala is a beautiful place that could have massive potential profits in agriculture and tourism.
If sanitation was reformed and if their foods were produced in more hygienic areas, people from other countries would be more inclined to visit the country and enjoy the country’s scenery and foods. Knowledge in agriculture would teach them to be more efficient and beneficial economic trends, agricultural knowledge, and practices to increase their daily profits and minimize countries’ heath and sanitation problems. Also, the land is extremely fertile and could grow crops very well. In fact, Guatemala is known for their excellent coffee. Families could use knowledge to help crops grow more efficiently and save their lands from overuse and pollution. Even floral design can be used by the women in communities; they can make arrangements to sell in the markets from the flowers they grow near their homes. Developing countries should have the opportunity for easy access to education and economic development that would enable them to have a more stable future. Unlike the traditional American dream of glory and riches, I don’t want to just study something just to make money. I want to help people make a difference in their world. I want to research and teach people how to improve the health of not only their own lives, but the generations to come through agriculture, just like Dr. Borlaug did.

I look once more at their little faces, radiant beams of light in their country, hope. Orange. They can grasp the color in their little palms and it spreads from their faces, to their minds, to their actions. They are bright flames of enlightenment in a dark world of ignorance. Knowledge is power, but more importantly a tool. That is why agriculture is important to me; it can save lives.

Blog Writer: Taylor Whittlesey