James Pinsky: Farmers are conservationists of the human race

James Pinsky

There are a few folks in life I dare not upset while they’re working: the waitress bringing my food, the dentist just before I say aaaaaaaaaaah, and farmers.

There are a few others, but the most important one is probably too busy on a tractor growing my food right now to care. Depending on your geography, and maybe your upbringing, farmers to us are noble, simply necessary or forgotten.

My feet are squarely planted in the noble crowd. This idea isn’t anything new. Not to us, not to Americans and not to the world. American statesman Daniel Webster said it best. “Let us not forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. When tillage begins, other arts will follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization.”

As a conservationist who works with some of the well-educated, passionate and results-driven people trying to save our planet, I can tell you without a doubt that the numbers of people who understand and cherish what our natural resources are more than farmers are rarer than hen’s teeth – or a teenager without a cell phone.

Author Wendell Berry wrote in his book, “Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food”“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

The very nature of what drives a farmer to get up at the crack of dawn and work well past our commute times is so we don’t die. Every seed he or she plants, every field he or she harvests, every pasture he or she tends cattle in isn’t for fame, fortune or futility. It’s so we can live. Once most of us understand this starting point, a lot of the arguments we might want to make about whether or not a farmer is a conservationist ought to vanish.

Farmers care about our future, and what they are contributing to it is a lot more than sound bites, rhetoric and protests. They’re the ones putting food in the mouths of their supporters and opponents alike. They want to feed you whether you like them, ignore them or despise them. They want to feed you if you’re rich, poor, sweet, mean or undecided. Why? Because they’re conservationists on a much grander scale than just our natural resources – they’re conservationists of the human race and this more than any other virtue demands we respect them as one of the most precious and necessary cultures in our world.

So, the next time you see a farmer, say thank you. But, do it with the kind of passion and respect reserved for someone who just saved your life because that’s exactly what farmers do, every single day and have since civilization began.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org. Visit us at www.lfswcd.org or follow us on Twitter https://twitter.com/lfswcd.