Thanksgiving is when we gather to appreciate our blessings, enjoying a feast from the bounty of the land. That bounty is made possible by some of the hardest-working and least appreciated members of our society, the farmers.
You can see them in their fields working long hours, against time, and at the mercy of the weather. If the winter lingers too long, or the spring rains continue too late, they are delayed in planting and may miss an entire growing season for the seeds they have purchased.
If the frost and snow comes too early, they may lose their crops that have not yet reached harvestable maturity. Even when the weather cooperates and the crop yield is robust, they must sell in a commodities market that drives down their prices.
The financial realities of agribusiness make it more difficult for farmers to stay on the land. Farms are increasingly facing development pressures, taking irreplaceable fertile soil out of production. Ultimately, this is a threat to our ability to feed our nation, even affecting our national security.
Trumbull County lost 1,000 acres of land used for farming between 2009 and 2010, dropping from 126,000 to 125,000. Nationally, two acres of farmland are lost to development every minute, with a loss of more than 6 million acres since 2002.
The business of farming requires major capital investments in land, buildings, expensive mechanized equipment, and inventory including seed and livestock. The investment required for a farm totals in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, comparable to a small industrial manufacturing factory. The average per farm production expense is $109,359.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly all farms (97 percent in 2009) are family farms, with the majority of the ownership of the farm business held by related individuals. About 40 percent of farms have more than one operator, but three-quarters of these are operated by a husband-wife team.
These farms' impact on our nation's economy is massive, producing a value of $352.3 billion in agricultural sector production, including $172.1 billion in crop production during 2010. Of this, farmers earned a total of $79.1 billion in net farm income.
Exports from our farms brought in more than $115 billion in 2010, with more than $2.6 billion from Ohio.
Our nation's trade deficit benefits further by reducing our dependence on imported oil with the production of ethanol and biodiesel from our home-grown crops, including corn and soybeans.
Trumbull County's 960 farms, with an average of 130 acres each, produced more than 1.2 million bushels of soybeans, 2.6 million bushels of corn, and 123,000 bushels of winter wheat, along with 62,600 pounds of milk, contributing their share to Ohio's economy.
Combined, Ohio's farms produced $8.8 billion in output, paying more than $337 million for hired labor.
Soybeans produced more than $2.2 billion, including more than $1.4 billion from exports. Ohio's corn earned more than $1.9 billion. Add to this the other crops, meats and fresh produce from our local farms to complete this picture of productivity.
What can we do as individuals to support our farmers, who provide so much for our benefit? First, take the time to shop directly from our local farms' produce stands and at our communities' farmers markets. There is a growing awareness of the benefits of healthy, affordable, locally grown food.
Grow Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative have launched the Mahoning Valley Food Policy Council to support local agricultural marketing, production, distribution and processing.
Vacant urban land is being restored for agriculture with the efforts of Rodney Hathhorn from Garden Resources of Warren (G.R.O.W.) and Grow Youngstown's Elsa Higby and Amber Foster. We should thank them and Jim Converse from Youngstown's northside and downtown farmers' market, who first introduced me to the idea of urban agriculture.
Most importantly, when we are reflecting on our blessings, remember our farmers on Thanksgiving; and throughout the year remember to say thank you in person.
Pirko is a Weathersfield resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.