Happy National Farmer’s Day! In our modern era, when so many people live in cities and suburbs, we often tend to overlook farmers’ tireless work to put food on our plates. But tireless work it is; according to the 2017 USDA census, 3.4 million American farmers support a nation of over 325 million people. That means that farmers make up just over 1% of our population.
Traditionally, harvest festivals have been held for thousands of years to celebrate the bounty reaped by agricultural societies. It makes sense, then, that we also celebrate National Farmer’s Day in the month of October, a season we typically associate with pumpkins, apples, and hayrides.
But who is a farmer? You probably are already aware that not all farmers fit the American archetype of an overalled man with a pitchfork.
Of course, America’s original farmers were slaves. For over 200 years, slave labor produced everything from cotton and tobacco to indigo and sugar, all of which built the commercial foundation of our country. Even after emancipation, “neoslavery” continued for another 80 years, and the nation is still feeling the effects of forced labor over 150 years later.
Next, we would be amiss not to mention the 2-3 million seasonal and migratory workers who keep our farms running. Their work is challenging and often unfair, and only by raising our voices about their burden via organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Alianza Nacional de Campesinas can we help them change their plight.
We can also look toward our youth, especially as many schools are implementing agricultural education into their curriculums. For example, by providing them with opportunities to build and sustain hydroponic farms, Teens for Food Justice trains students in New York City schools to be food justice advocates. Many colleges also run farms that support their campuses and communities.
This is not to mention the millions of farmers worldwide who produce the food that we import. From coffee beans to rice, to bananas and cacao, we owe a lot to foreign farmers.
To celebrate National Farmer’s Day this year, here are five ways you can honor farmers and farm workers.
- There are many harvest festivals held this time of year, especially in small towns. Visit one and learn more about the farming culture and history of your area.
- Buy your produce (and even items like textiles!) from a farmer’s market, striking up a conversation with the farmers if time allows.
- Learn more about the Farmworkers’ Movement, which seeks to guarantee better pay and working conditions for those who are often targeted as minorities.
- Try your own hand at small-scale farming in the form of a garden, hydroponics, or even just growing herbs on your windowsill. Growing plants helps us develop empathy with farmers and even nature itself.
- Dine out at a farm-to-table restaurant, and take the time to learn about the farms from which the restaurant sources. Participating farms often tend to be organic, progressive, and innovative, and they thus shine a light on what the future of farming might look like.