As we celebrate the founding of or nation on this July 4th , I believe that it is a good occasion to think about the role that agriculture has played in our history. However, the story doesn't just start in 1776.
The majority of the millions of people living in the Americas, whether North, South or Central, before 1492, were farmers. Columbus stumbled upon the tip of the complex network of resource-rich societies that depended upon a whole host of crops that were unknown to Europeans.
When the early European explorers began to raid the inhabitant's stores of gold, I suspect that they didn't understand that the real wealth lay in the continent's soils and plants...It took the farmers who followed the conquistadors to realize that.
Many of our nation's founding fathers were farmers, and the ranks of the Continental Army were filled with men who left their farms to fight. Probably many of those farmer-soldiers didn't fully understand the concept of being a citizen of a nation where they could take part in the process of governing themselves.
Over the past 240 years, we have continued to hone the idea self governance. The definition of who can take part in this process has expanded beyond the property owing white men who wrote our constitution. It now includes lots of folks they probably would never have considered.
While farmers and livestock producers made up 90% of the population in 1776, they are less than 2% today, but continue to add to the wealth of our nation. They efficiently harvest energy from sunlight, minerals from the soil, and capture precipitation to produce crops and livestock that feed our nation, with some left over for other folks in the world.
So while we celebrate our independence, let's raise a toast to the folks who produced the bounty of food that we'll eat at our barbeque's today. They provide us with the greatest diversity and least expensive meals in the world.