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National Agriculture Day: Towards a Sustainable Food Production

by Caroline Grape
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Ever since the cultivation of the eight so-called founder crops of agriculture (emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, hulled barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chickpeas, and flax) in 9500BC in the Levant, and the first sheep domesticated in Mesopotamia (current Iraq) between 11000BC and 9000BC, agriculture has continued to play a key role in human existence and development. 

From providing food for consumption to providing raw materials for clothing, its influence has become ubiquitous. Agriculture plays a vital role in the social and economic aspects of our society. This role is further supported by the statement “food is life, food is peace, food is justice.” Hunger imperils world peace. It makes man desperate, leading to riots, the breakdown of government, and chaos.

As one of the largest producers – and exporters – of food, America is actively engaged in mitigating global hunger whilst advancing its economic prosperity. This feat is made possible by the American farmers who work tirelessly to feed a hungry planet. It is noteworthy that each American farmer feeds more than 165 people – a dramatic increase from 25 people in the 1960s. 

In a bid to recognize and celebrate the contribution of agriculture in our everyday lives, National Agriculture Day – a day when producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless other stakeholders across America join together to recognize the contributions of agriculture – was started in 1973. Hosted by the Agriculture Council of America (ACA), National Agriculture Day is celebrated on March 23, 2021.

National Agriculture Day provides the opportunity to:

learning-about-food-production

GAIN KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING OF HOW FOOD IS PRODUCED

A sizable amount of American consumers have little or no idea about how their favorite crispy French fries or their juicy, well-seasoned medium rare steak was sourced. In a time when the subject of food has become a hot debate topic – with concurrent questions about food safety, food ethics, and animal welfare being asked – a substantial understanding about how our food is produced is necessary to ensure that consumers are indeed knowledgeable and deliberate about their food choices.

Besides, with an estimated population of 9.5 billion by 2050, the challenge remains how to meet food demand whilst maintaining a neutral or positive environmental impact – The Fate of Food provides some insightsAccording to Stockholm Resilience Centre, food production continues to play a major role in escalating five of the nine boundaries of humanity and planetary survival. The main drivers are: irresponsible land-use, resulting in the loss of biodiversity and changes in ecosystem service; commercial production of Nitrogen and Phosphorus, leading to waterways pollution through leaching. This pollution can push marine and aquatic systems across ecological thresholds of their own. 

One regional example of this effect is the decline in the shrimp catch in Gulf of Mexico’s so-called ‘dead zone’ caused by fertilizer transported to rivers from the US Midwest. Besides, soil erosion, salinization, desertification, and other soil degradations associated with intensive agriculture and deforestation reduces the quality of land resources and future agricultural productivity. Hence, the need for the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices that advance the responsible use of arable land, reduce the use of chemical inputs (pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics), and positively contribute to climate change.

Sustainable agriculture practice is not rocket science. Simply put, it describes farming systems that are capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to our society indefinitely. A handful of food producers in the world, particularly in Texas, are diligently involved in sustainable agriculture practices, which are mostly evident in their integrated farming systems. From Good Health Organic Farm to Hope Farms, Bastrop Cattle Company to Sand Holler Farm, the list remains endless. 

The National Agriculture Day is an opportune time to visit some of these farms and get an understanding of their sustainable operations.

TexasRealFood recommends the following farms in Texas:

Isle Acres Farm
In 2015, out of the desire to ensure their children’s healthy lifestyle through healthy feeding, the Isle Acres Farm was born by Becky and her husband, Pete. They are involved in the organic production of anything vegetables i.e. no till and no use of chemical inputs. To create awareness about organic food production, they provide farming classes for all ages and farm tours.

Thompsons Eggs
Curious about the effect of grass feeding on livestock production? Then Thompsons Eggs is your plug! With a distinct animal welfare, they consider their chickens as pets that need to be well taken care of.  As a result, they provide quality feeds and a free-range system for their chickens which in turn enhances their egg production.

Bountiful Acres
Bountiful Acres is involved in responsibly raising, processing, and selling beef, pork, poultry, and rabbit products. They adopt sustainable practices that enable them to meet people’s needs while conserving the environment.

Dobecka Family Farm
They produce quality grass-fed beef and provide an open platform for information gathering on calf’s birthdate, parental information, diet information, etc. Their cattle are never given antibiotics or hormones. You can learn more by visiting the farm.

Pure Roots Farm
Pure Roots was born from the idea of connecting people to their food. Their Urban Farms grow a variety of produce that has the lowest possible emission footprint and is grown right in your local city. They are currently on a project that allows students to learn about the benefits of indoor farming.

agriculture-and-the-economy

VALUE THE ESSENTIAL ROLE OF AGRICULTURE IN MAINTAINING A STRONG ECONOMY 

From food to textiles, medicine to biofuel, agriculture contributes a great deal to the American economy. In 2019, the agriculture and food industry contributed a whopping $1.109 trillion to the US GDP – where America’s farms contributed $136.1billion of the total sum. Sectors that rely on agriculture include: food and beverage manufacturing; food and beverage stores; food services; textiles apparel, and leather products; and forestry and fishing.

Agriculture also plays a critical role in employment. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2019, 22.2 million full-and part-time jobs were related to the agriculture and food sectors – 10.9 percent of total US employment. Direct on-farm employment accounted for about 2.6 million of these jobs, or 1.3 percent of US employment. However, on-farm employment is undermined by some opportunistic behaviors on the part of employers in the form of unpaid farm labor, and the complex relationship between farmers and non-documented immigrants. 

Knowledge about the essential role of agriculture in the economy provides the opportunity for our society to develop a positive perception towards agriculture.

agriculture-awareness-for-younger-generation

BUILDING AWARENESS TO ENCOURAGE YOUNG PEOPLE TO CONSIDER CAREER OPPORTUNITIES IN AGRICULTURE

In the 19th century, agriculture accounted for approximately 70 percent of the US workforce. However, there has been a sharp decline in this figure lately. This is a result of the consistently dwindling interest of the younger generation towards agriculture. Advancement in technology and breakthrough-innovations also contributed to this decline, as they improve efficiency, productivity, and the input-output ratio. 

Despite these innovative achievements, a knowledge gap still exists in the agriculture sector. Over 50,000 jobs in agriculture are available per year in the US, yet there are not enough qualified graduates to fill the positions. Hence, the need to create awareness that brings about a change in the mindset of the young people towards agriculture. 

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University aims to launch leaders in agriculture and life sciences and prepare them with in-demand skills in agriculture and life sciences. Farmer Veteran Coalition works to cultivate a new generation of farmers and food leaders, and develop viable employment opportunities and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities. The National Farm to School Program also provides information, advocacy, and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing, school gardens, and food and agriculture education into schools and education settings.

To promote agriculture and recognize its socio-economic impact, all stakeholders have a critical role to play. Therefore, on this National Agriculture Day, GET INVOLVED!

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