Farming has always been part of the American culture. Even before European settlers arrived, the Indians were involved in farming too. The Native American dig site in Burke County, Joara, tells an interesting story about pre-colonial life in America and the central role agriculture played.
Farming, like other areas of our society, has become more and more efficient. A modern farm produces 262% more than a farm in 1950. Now, less than 1% of the population in the United States engages in farming. This is an incredible statistic. Not only are fewer people farming, but our food supply is the safest and least expensive than any other time in the history of the world.
This sounds like a reason to celebrate – safe, inexpensive food – but it has created an unexpected side effect. There is now a disconnect between society and how it feeds itself. The majority of the population is no longer involved in food production. This disconnect between food producer and food consumer allows for distrust to develop. It is ironic that the agricultural advancements that allow so many to be freed from agricultural toil are the same advancements receiving criticism.
Much of the concern about modern agriculture is centered around advances in genetics. Terms like genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) are, unfortunately, not very endearing descriptions for our food crops. However, these terms have been coined and are part of the lexicon. Popular press articles have challenged the safety of these agricultural advances. It is often cited that little research is done on these technologies to evaluate their safety. However, this is no longer a valid argument. An Italian researcher published his summary of 10 years worth of scientific studies. In all, he cited 1,738 studies about the safety of genetically engineered crops. The conclusion of the study is food from genetically modified crops is as safe as, or safer than, conventional or organic foods.
The message that GMO crops are safe is a message that has not been reported often. However, this message is supported by lots and lots of research.
However, it actually seems we are coming full circle. The efficiency of American agriculture that allowed the majority of the work force to leave the farm has created a void. People want to be involved in agriculture. There is a Census of Agriculture every five years in the US. The 2013 numbers have not been compiled yet. However, in 2007 the number of farms in the US grew for the first time since 1935. This trend happened in Caldwell County too. We went from having 411 farms in 2002 to 459 farms in 2007. I have a suspicion that the 2013 Ag Census will show another increase in farm numbers.
Agriculture is an exciting field. It is a mix of science, art, and hard work. Instant satisfaction is a foreign concept in farming, but the rewards can be plentiful. If you really want to understand farming, start by putting a seed in the ground.