- Your News
By WELDON PAYNE
A crisp message from our son Chris the other day reminded me of what is easy to forget yet is of utmost importance.
“We (he and Cherry) are on a high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai,” he emailed. “Solid agriculture for four hours going 200 miles per hour.” Ten days on business in China.
“There are four times as many people here as in the U.S.,” Chris noted. “It is staggering — all the farming to feed them all.” Even so, it is evident each morning that garbage cans have been raided by humans in search of food.
Most all the farming is by hand, he wrote, adding, “Have seen only six tractors — all very small and old. Out of 1.3 billion people, 700 thousand are farmers!”
As CEO of a dealer co-operative headquartered in south Georgia, Chris and Cherry have been in China, touching base with companies there. Both dedicated runners, he had announced in an earlier, pre-dawn missive that they would be running that morning on a portion of the Great China Wall. (The kids keep an eye out for ways to break the routine. Before giving birth to their three children, Cherry placed third in a marathon. In woods and fields, Chris keeps a sharp lookout for Indian arrowheads.) But he has spent over 25 years working in one way or another with farmers and has often reminded me of our dependence on them.
It is easy to forget, even for old-timers like his father who once followed a mule that pulled a plow of one kind or another, fighting Alabama weeds, rocks, and roots to put roasting ears on the table and hard corn to keep the little black mule functioning for another season.
Back then we had some idea of where a lot of our food came from. We never found bottles of milk on our back or front steps, but we knew the sound of warm milk playing a tune against a filling pail. Now, each time I buy a gallon of milk, I’m asked: “Do you want your milk in a bag?” (A time or two I’ve noted that “it started out in a bag.” Once, one store clerk smiled and announced that, having grown up on a farm, she knew exactly what I meant.” Most had no idea.)
But food is no joke. Each time we visit our daughter Jill in western Illinois I marvel at the wide and lonely fields of soybeans and corn — miles and miles surrounding houses and barns to be diligently worked year after year. Silos abound. Food for people who live far away. Chris has often told me that agriculture should be included in the Department of Defense. Indeed, food is a veritable weapon.
Some months ago when parts of Thailand were flooding, our other son Scott, and Valerie distributed hundreds of baskets of food to natives whose crops were ruined. There are, of course, hungry people in America, but have you noticed how, in recent years, many restaurants serve mammoth meals? Small wonder that “overweight” has become a major problem in our nation.
But this is not a sermon about overeating.
For me, it is a reminder of the tenuous truce against hunger and even starvation that exists in various parts of the world. And I doze off at night, thinking of our son and his wife speeding across China for hours without losing sight of agriculture. Farming. Food. Survival. Cooperatives, yes. Americans working together for survival of agriculture — survival of real people.
As a young kid I remember hearing a few adults joke about farm experts recommending “terracing” and crop rotation and other suggestions for enriching over-burdened soil. It was no joke then. It is no joke now. And when I think of the little boy who overcame rheumatic fever and ran his legs off competing from junior high through college now on a high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai — fighting the good fight to help feed homo sapiens around the globe — yes, I’m proud of him — and of all the farmers around the world who work to feed us. Aren’t you?