Labor Day: Because hard work still counts in America

As society moves in droves to urban areas and as world blames the beef cow for climate change, here is why the humble farmer in rural America matters.

Amanda Radke

August 31, 2019

5 Min Read

I recently read an article about “brain drain” in rural America, which explained the trend of highly educated people leaving low populated states, like where I live in South Dakota, in favor of more urban areas.

Folks interviewed for the story cited more job opportunities in the fields of technology and engineering. They desired more cultural diversity and openness to ideas. And they ultimately wanted to ditch their one-horse towns in favor of more exciting, entertaining and dynamic locations.

I read the article with sadness as it described how increasingly difficult it is to recruit trained professionals to work in rural schools and hospitals. The article also pointed out how this widening gap between rural and urban America has increased the political polarization in this country.

Our lives and experiences in rural and urban America differ so greatly that it’s often difficult to find common ground in some of these hot topic debates.

Take, for example, discussions around climate change. Every day I read countless articles that essentially conclude if we are to save the planet, we must go meatless. This is written as fact and completely disregards that the very heart of agriculture — whether you’re eating peanut butter or beef — supports human life.

Related:Climate change expected to increase cost of farm programs

Certainly, every food we eat has a carbon footprint; however, food is essential to survival.

What’s more, common sense (which isn’t so common anymore, even in the highly educated) would dictate that heavily used things like transportation and electricity contribute more emissions than the simple beef cow.
But what would I know? I live in a rural state where cows outnumber people four to one. If the emissions from the beef cow were so great, there would be smog over Artesian, S.D. (population 140) where I live, not in concrete urban jungles like Los Angeles or New York City.

Simply stated, we cannot eat our way out of climate change because every food we grow uses natural resources. People should feel free to eat what they want without guilt and they should have the facts when they do so.

I’ve written on climate change many times on this blog, negating the claims that the beef cow is the number-one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and explaining how ranchers sustainably use land and water to produce more beef today with fewer cattle.

While we can talk these numbers until we are blue in the face, we are still being largely ignored by the general population. Perhaps we could approach it from a nutrition standpoint. Calorie for calorie, beef provides more bang for your buck than lettuce or tofu. Yet, are those numbers ever figured into the climate change discussions?

Related:Modern ag is the answer to climate change concerns

I didn’t intend for this blog post to deep dive into emissions and climate change. When I started typing, I had plans to discuss Labor Day. I promise, I’m getting there.

I give the myth of climate change and cattle as an example of the widening urban and rural divide. In rural America, hard-working producers are utilizing every drop of water, every acre of land and every input in order to efficiently and sustainably raise crops and livestock to feed and nourish a growing planet.

The “brain power” at work in rural America is great! Every day, producers are utilizing drones, artificial insemination, embryonic transfers, GPS, data collection, electronic identification, etc. to be better at their trade. These tools are implemented with educated minds, strong backs and a willingness to work against the odds. Each day, producers face an onslaught of media criticism, market uncertainty, unpredictable weather and huge financial risk.

Even as the rest of the world discounts the lowly agriculturalist, I believe our hard work still matters in America. After all, food security is national security. Without access to safe, affordable food, famine, war and civil unrest will become the norm.

The article about “brain drain” basically discounted the educated folks working in the blue collar jobs like agriculture, energy and timber. It’s these folks who make eating, keeping the lights on and our cars running a simplicity that we take for granted.

We no longer have to hunt to eat. We don’t have to chop firewood to heat our homes. We can hop in a car, train or plane to get places instead of a covered wagon. And we can do these things because of the fundamental work being done in rural America.

It’s this essential work that allows the rest of society to pursue other interests — art, medicine, politics, social marketing, public relations, journalism, engineering, etc.  

On Labor Day, which became a federal holiday in 1894, we celebrate hard-working Americans who through the course of our nation’s history have contributed to the growth, development, endurance, strength, security, prosperity, productivity, sustainability, structure and well-being of the country.

In 2019, this celebration of laborers is probably more important than ever before. While society grumbles and points their fingers at rural America, we’ll keep using our brains to produce more food while using fewer resources. We’ll continue to utilize the latest technologies and find ways to improve what’s already great. Even in the face of great criticism, agriculture will keep feeding the world.

And whether we like it or not, our challenge and burden will continue to be bridging the gap and opening the lines of communication between the urban elite and the humble farmer. If we don’t, I’m afraid the armchair “farmers” will be able to dictate how we get to do our jobs in the future.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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