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Sunday, May 19, 2013
Down on the FarmPosted Monday, November 9, 2009, at 2:00 PM
I never considered myself a city girl, until I moved here. I thought that my canoeing, camping and hiking adventures separated me from the "city slickers," but I forgot one other essential rural element: farming. Sure, I've helped plant flowers and I've picked up black walnuts to sell, but I've never participated in a true harvest.
Last Friday afternoon, however, I experienced some real farm work as I rode with my cousin in the cab of a giant John Deere combine. I watched as the dry soybeans were swept up by the machine's teeth and whisked away, ending up in the grain storage bin behind the cab. The afternoon faded to evening and then night, and we continued to combine in the dark, thanks to brilliant lights on board. It was beyond disorienting to twist and turn across a vast field, surrounded by nothing but black.
As the field of beans was reduced to just flat earth, questions began to race through my mind. How much does one bag of seed cost, how many bushels are in an acre, how much is earned per bushel? I've worked, to an extent, since I was 16, but it's hard to imagine one's wages being so directly tied to the environment and nature. Now, I come to work and write stories, and so I get paid, rain or shine, drought or flood. Depending on the weather for one's income must be rather unsettling, if not downright scary.
I also began to think of larger questions, as the monotonous drone of the engine and the seemingly unending rows of crops lulled me into a daze. Larger questions like, although the new farming machinery is obviously better for farmers, how does it impact the environment? Or, why is it that 80 percent of soybeans produced worldwide actually go to feed livestock, not people? Or, why has per capita meat consumption in the U.S. increased by 40 percent since 1961?
These things are not necessarily the farmer's fault. They are the products of business strategies and changing lifestyles, in a way, conspicuous consumption applied to the food we eat. So, the next time you eat a giant hamburger or an oversized steak, think first about all the steps involved (and all the carbon dioxide emitted) in its production. And the next time I complain about the weather, I will remember, and be comforted, that it doesn't directly affect my very livelihood.
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Sydney is a former staff writer for the Democrat-News. She received degrees from University of Missouri in both music and magazine journalism. She played oboe with the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra and the Marshall Municipal Band while she was in Marshall.