Their faces peer out at me from the glossy cover of a magazine, the bold headline touting them as “America’s Most Valuable People”. Among their ranks are political pundits, ingenious inventors, humble humanitarians, and a host of other charismatic characters. Their varied accomplishments reflect a time-tested tradition of hard work and good ol’ American ingenuity, but their lofty title as our country’s “most valuable” citizens makes me wonder. Would Americans perish from “technological withdrawal” if Steve Jobs discontinued the iPad? No. Would a national crisis ensue if Lady GaGa retired from performing? I don’t think so. If Mark Zuckerberg terminated Facebook, would the world as we know it cease to exist? I think not.
Then it occurs to me: America’s “Most Valuable People” aren’t found on magazine covers. Rather, they are found in farm fields, feed stores, and livestock barns. They are American farmers, a group whose labors, although largely unrecognized, are vital to the lives of all U.S. citizens – or at least the ones that eat.
In this modern age of supermarkets and 24-hour fast food restaurants, it has become increasingly hard for the American public to fathom where their food comes from. Long gone are the days when a chicken dinner meant selecting a bird from the henhouse. Today’s consumer, faced with an endless array of choices, selects their poultry with little knowledge of its origin, unaware of the work that went into producing and dispatching the bird. They fail to realize the vital connection between farm and food, between production and consumption. Little do they realize that without our nation’s strong agricultural infrastructure of farmers, their grocery store shelves would be bare.
As America’s population continues to grow, a farmer’s job is to keep up with the escalating demand for food. They will have to play multiple roles in their quest to provide nutritious, affordable products for more than 300 million Americans. Farmers will become inventors, developing devices that will improve crop yields and abolish dated farming practices. They will become delegates for agriculture, lobbying for the advancement of farming in their legislatures. Most importantly, farmers will become naturalists, determining the best solutions for responsible soil, water, and resource management.
Although it’s unlikely that a soybean farmer from Kansas will ever steal Kim Kardashian’s VIP publicity, their true importance to their fellow citizens cannot be denied. American farmers’ dedication to maintaining an unrivaled level of food security makes them our nation’s “Most Valuable People”, even if they drive a Case instead of a Cadillac.