An innate awareness of seasonal milestones happens naturally in agriculture. Buds pushing out on fruit trees, heavy rain or lack thereof, bloom and pollination, pests or disease, and of course, harvest start and finish. Some farmers or ranchers note these transitions mentally, others jot them down in a notebook, and plenty more use technology to track key data points along the way, relying on historical weather, yields, and more to help them make improvements for the next season.
Given the past year, it seems everyone—whether in agriculture or not—is reflecting on their pre-pandemic lasts. The photo memories timestamping the last year, from empty grocery store shelves to the run on toilet paper that will inevitably pop up on your newsfeed. While it can feel that so much has changed in the past year, including the food supply chain adjusting to newly-needed distribution channels, one thing has remained—producing the food, fiber, and materials we use every day.
After a year of canceled events and modified work for the average person, farmers, ranchers, fishers, and foresters never left their post. It’s obvious why they were considered essential. They certainly adapted how the work gets done, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. At the end of the day, however, the cows still needed to be milked, plants kept growing, and from farmer to truck driver to grocery store worker, essential industries worked to ensure we all had what we needed.
Every year, we celebrate National Ag Day in March. This roughly first anniversary of the start of the pandemic seems like a particularly apt moment to acknowledge all those working in agriculture. Established in 1973 to help Americans understand how food and fiber products are produced, National Ag Day helps us all appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing the safe, abundant, and affordable products we use every day. Agriculture is likewise essential in maintaining a strong economy, as it’s an industry offering an abundance of career opportunities as well as benefits to society.
Farmers, ranchers, fishers, and foresters are never working for a thank you, but this Ag Day, in particular, serves as a reminder to realize all the parts of our day enabled by the people working on farms, ranches, boats, and in the forests. These are the folks to thank for the milk with breakfast cereal, the paper napkin in your sack lunch, and the burger or fish sticks for dinner. Every day, there are so many reminders of what agriculture means to us.
We’ve come to recognize these items and habits as essential parts of our day, and we’re all part of a symbiotic relationship, playing a vital role in the success and sustainability of our family farms, ranches, fisheries, and forests.
Mallory Phelan is the Executive Director of Oregon Aglink, a nonprofit dedicated to growing agriculture in Oregon through education and promotion.