Jamestown then and now
It is certainly the season to be thankful. As I find so often in my life, another great irony occurs just before I write this piece about the reason to celebrate Thanksgiving.
My last speaking engagement was Saturday, Nov. 21, in Jamestown--no, not Virginia but North Dakota. In the first permanent settlement in the "New World" in the early years, the colonists were living anything but high on the hog. History tells us that anyone who survived from year to year accomplished a major feat. In fact, I find many statistics on the colonies to be extremely interesting.
In 1607, 104 men, some poor and some rich, sailed to Jamestown on three ships. The only reason they came was to find gold. Unfortunately, some of the men were too proud to work for their own survival. These "gentlemen" just wouldn't work! Many men died of starvation or mosquito-transmitted diseases.
In fact, nearly half of the men died in the first year. Just when things couldn't get any worse, a man named John Smith saved Jamestown. He taught the men how to take care of themselves. He is famous for saying, "If you don't work, you don't eat!"
Honestly, I am not sure we are very far from being in that same position today in this great country--a country that was founded on the principle of freedom, including the freedom to actually fail. We have choices that people of other nations around the world would love to have--most importantly, a plentiful supply of food. Yet recent reports indicate that a higher percentage of American mouths are going without food. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture just released this information:
"The annual report revealed that 17 million American households--14.6 percent of households--were "food insecure" in 2008, the highest level observed since the report was first undertaken in 1995, USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) said.
The numbers represent 49 million Americans, including nearly 17 million children."
Why? Why would the reports indicate so much despair in a country with so much to offer? One reason is that we have developed a similar "elitist" attitude to the one I mentioned in regard to the earliest colonial times. If you don't work, you don't eat. But the economy is bad and I lost my job, you say.
First of all, if I am "food insecure" and my kids might go hungry, I assure you I could find work that would generate enough money to keep my family fed. Certainly it might be manual labor that I may feel extremely overqualified for, but it could sustain life.
Secondly, I notice that food companies are gearing up to continue growing their "convenience food" sales in retail grocery stores. For the amount of money wasted on high-caloric, low-nutrient density foods, you could feed a family of five for a week. Be a smarter consumer.
Third, quit being led around the social networking world like a bunch of sheep with no individual thought given to the political issues regarding the adaptation of modern science and technology in creating an abundance of food. Reasonably priced food will continue to be available if we simply allow the farmers and ranchers to do what we do better than any other nation in the world.
We can, we have and we will continue to efficiently convert natural resources into the consumable essentials of life for human beings. The original intent of Thanksgiving in 1621 was to give thanks to God for the knowledge of how to provide for our people. President Abraham Lincoln captured that when he gave a declaration on the first Thanksgiving Day in 1863.
"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessing of fruitful field and healthful skies," Lincoln wrote. "To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they came, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God."
Those in agriculture, directly caring for the land and animals, are truly doing God's work in providing these essentials of life. I am thankful that I was born into a nation with so many great visionaries and leaders who understood that the best way of life is not to take any of these things for granted and to work to achieve them.
Show me a nation whose people have had the essentials of life handed to them and I will show you a segment of people completely dependent upon others to meet their needs. I am thankful that we live in a nation where some things truly have not changed--If you don't work, you don't eat!
Editor's note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or e-mail Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.