Gardening

In praise of Farm City Week


Published: Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.

Very soon, families and friends will be gathering around the Thanksgiving Day table to reflect on the blessings of the past year. Food will play a large part in these assemblies, and in observance of the interdependency of those who produce food — and those who consume it — Farm City Week was initiated in the 1950s.

There was a time in America when one farmer fed himself and two or three additional people. By 1960, that number had risen to 26 and, thanks to advances in technology, today it sits at a lofty 155.

Back in the day when one farmer fed only a few people, there was no question about where or how food was produced; most people had a first-hand knowledge of the process from field to table and every step in between. That started to change after the Civil War when industrialization began to move people into cities and eventually into small towns. Today, less than 2 percent of the population actually grows food, although the number of people officially employed in agriculture approaches 20 percent. These additional percentages include those involved in processing, packaging, inspecting, marketing, transporting and selling these products. Food production is big business, and is not only important to feed citizens in the United States; it represents a critical part of the nation's annual export value.

It is naturally hard to value things with which one has only a distant relationship, and although the nation's populace enjoys the safest, least-expensive, most-abundant food supply in the world, it is often taken for granted. Unless hurricane winds are approaching, the shelves of local supermarkets always are fully stocked, and shoppers have many choices in selecting items for the evening table.

In large part, the public's lack of understanding of the struggle to produce food predicated the development of Farm City Week, which is celebrated nationally beginning the Thursday prior to Thanksgiving through Thanksgiving Day. Producers were concerned that people didn't give much thought to the food-production process, and like all things taken for granted, that it was undervalued. The time of Thanksgiving, the conclusion of the harvest for many crops throughout much of the nation, seemed a natural fit to celebrate the value of food production and the interdependency of producers and consumers.

Florida agriculture features more than 200 commodities, and the state is a major producer of vegetables for winter markets as well as citrus for fresh markets and juice. Florida produces a large number of cattle, which is the top agricultural commodity in the nation by sales receipts, followed by corn, soybeans, dairy products and broilers. Agriculture provides a stable segment for many local economies because regardless of the movement of markets, food is a product that is always in demand.

In response to the need producers have for new cultivars and varieties, along with information on diseases and insect pests, the University of Florida operates 14 research centers across the state. These centers specialize in a variety of commodities from the Range Cattle Center at Ona to tropical fruits at Homestead. Some centers work on issues that more directly affect all Floridians, such as mosquito research conducted at the Florida Medical Entomological lab at Vero Beach, termite research at Fort Lauderdale, or food science work conducted in Gainesville.

Farm City Week offers everyone an important reminder of how food is produced and the value food offers to ensure a vibrant society. This year, prior to sitting down to the annual Thanksgiving Day repast, think about how food is produced and processed prior to its arrival at the table. An understanding of the importance of food production will heighten your appreciation of the holiday we celebrate on Thanksgiving.

David Holmes is Marion County extension director. Contact him at david.holmes@marioncountyfl.org.

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