The United States was once a predominately agrarian country and economy. Mechanization and other forms of technological progress have now reached the point that barely 2% of Americans farm. Since the U.S. is experiencing significant drought during the summer of 2012, it's more important than ever that all Americans, including students, understand the critical importance agriculture plays in our lives. This process must begin at home and in our schools regardless of whether children and adolescents desire to pursue careers in agricultural related industries.
Students must know that food does not come from the store. They need to know how food is produced on farms and in oceans and gardens across the country and the entire food chain supply process including slaughterhouses, food inspections, the role of governmental inspection, the importance of pesticides, and even controversies over genetically modified organisms. Families should encourage their children to plant fruit and vegetable gardens at home to understand the multiple economic factors involved in food production including governmental laws, programs such as price supports, regulations, and transportation costs. Parents who do not live on farms should take their children to farms to see how agricultural commodities are produced from their divine creation through harvest. An excellent example of such a farm Indiana residents have access to is Fair Oaks Dairy Farm in Newton County. There visitors can see calfs being born, learn about the multiple uses of dairy cattle, and munch on delicious ice cream and cheese. Visiting and interacting with local county extension services is also beneficial as is attending county 4-H fairs and your state fair.
Parents also need to inculcate healthy eating habits into their children by personal example. This is an excellent way to warn them of the high economic and personal costs of obesity and heart disease without sanctimonious lecturing from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Michelle Obama. In addition, parents and teachers must also teach their children and students how precious water is as a commodity and how it should not be wasted on frivolities like lawn watering. Children and adolescents should be shown household water bills and understand that water comes from finite natural resources such as aquifers, lakes, and waters and that it goes through significant and costly processing to make it safe to drink in the nation's urban areas. This year's drought is also a excellent opportunity to teach ourselves about the presence of aridity throughout history and how it just takes a few weeks without rainfall to alter our eating habits and ecosystem.
We should also develop an appreciation for and support locally produced agriculture by going to farmers markets and supporting local food businesses along with the traditional grocery stores. Developing a strong sense of economy and value in food purchasing helps bring the nation closer to the yeoman farmer and steward ideal espoused by Thomas Jefferson. Students need to understand the roles played by government agencies such as the Dept. of Agriculture and Congress in determining U.S. agricultural policy as this year's quinquennial farm bill demonstrates. It is also important to understand that the U.S. is a major agricultural exporter and to be aware of countries where the U.S. exports its produce and to be aware of agricultural, cultural, economic, and political conditions in foreign countries which affects how they produce agricultural products and services and the prices we pay for importing these items. Wherever we travel domestically or internationally we should be aware of agricultural traditions, trends, and practices. For instance, while traveling by train between Munich and Augsburg, Germany last month my wife and I saw enormous solar panels on Bavarian farms indicating that area's belief in solar energy as a mechanism for cultivation. The agricultural economy is highly interlocked and globalized so students and consumers need to understand this as they produce and consume food and drinks and make personal economic choices about their food and drink consumption and spending practices.
We also need to be aware that agricultural and climatic cycles, whether human-caused or natural in provenance, are part of environmental history and cause us to be cautious in predicting future climactic trends and developments. Agriculture is a continuum of famine and prosperity and everything in between.
Finally, students need to be aware of how natural phenomena such as drought, hail, and rain can damage or destroy agricultural products and how the increased scarcity and costs produced by such tragedies are passed on to us in the form of higher prices. Understanding farming is an excellent way to recognize that man is not the master of our environment and should, hopefully, produce an increased recognition of our dependence on God for the food we eat and beverages we drink.