By Helen Johnson
Booker T. Washington once said “No race can prosper until it learns there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” Last week was National Agriculture Week, and Tuesday, March 22 was celebrated as National Agriculture Day. When a smaller and smaller number of Americans are directly involved in growing their own food, it becomes even more important for us to understand our food chain.
The human race began as hunter-gatherers, often moving to follow their food source. As people formed settlements, agriculture as we presently know it began. While there’s not an official date, scientists place the origins of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago in the fertile Middle East. Advancements transcended from across the Middle East to Europe and Native Americans by way of irrigation, cross-breeding livestock, crop rotation and more, among their massive civilizations.
Today it is estimated only 2% of the working population is involved in the agriculture industry. There were almost three times as many farms 100 years ago as there are today. The massive farm and food production we rely on to bring sustenance to our tables is often poorly comprehend. Yet people have an increased desire to understand where the fruits and vegetables or meat and dairy on the store shelves come from – often referred to as farm-to-table. I say, ask a farmer. They can follow the life cycle of every item on your plate. From putting seeds into soil to early morning feeding of their flocks, farmers put in long, loving hours to nurture the growth of our food.
This knowledge of how things arrive on our plate was recently shared with some local children as part of a 4-week, grant-funded program focused on improving health and wellness. I shared some of my appreciation and firsthand exposure to this in last week’s warble. This type of information is also shared on a regular basis with our diabetic patients, cardiac rehabilitation participants and many others who utilize our services at Sparrow Eaton Hospital. We often help these individuals deepen their appreciation for the food chain by taking them out to the community garden, HARVEST, at AL!VE; an abundant enclosure where our dieticians show off their green thumbs.
Whether participants of a cooking or wellness program, patients who are referred (or elect) to come to us to improve their health, each are privy to discourse on the benefits we gain in a garden. They witness the casual plucking of greens to put into a smoothie, or the red, ripe tomato pulled to use on a sandwich, while simultaneously hearing the nutritional value of such items. Often the education and advice they receive includes the importance of a diverse diet, which, a lot of time, requires a variety of fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. I have often used this forum to extol the virtues of a garden, both nutritional and psychological, but I also recognize gardening is not for everyone. However, eating is! And healthful eating should be an option open to all of us!
As we support bridging the gap between you and your food, we aim to increase the number of healthy experiences that Eaton County has each year. As a result, we’re raising awareness of our food, of our well-being and of agriculture. Happy National Agriculture week! Let’s celebrate by getting our hands (and mouths) on some locally harvested food and thank our area farmers. Whether some milk from Mooville, free range eggs from our neighbor, freshly picked produce from our community garden or herbs from our own porch pots, there is an array of local nutrition to savor.
Eaton Proud. Sparrow Strong. Mitten Made.
Helen Johnson, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, FACHE
Sparrow Eaton Hospital President