Our annual Salute to Agriculture (or, as is the case this year, the combined Salute to Ag/Dairy which appears in this edition) is always a meaningful endeavor for me.

My affinity for and love of agriculture is probably ingrained in my DNA, given that I grew up on a Northwest Iowa family farm and have been around ag pretty much all my life.

While California has been my home for more than 35 years, I still consider myself an Iowan at heart....those roots run deep, as does my appreciation for farming and the values the lifestyle instilled.

As with many things in life, I probably didn’t fully develop that appreciation until looking back and realizing how my rural upbringing shaped me as a person.

Kind of like getting into your early 20s and realizing that your parents really did know what they were talking about after all.

To say that ours was a farming community would be a bit of an understatement. That our high school mascot was the “Cattlefeeders” speaks to that.

I would not trade my farm upbringing for anything. Yes, there was work to be done on occasion and we all pitched in and helped out at times.....but there was also plenty of time to pursue our own interests and just to be kids.

The farm was a great place to grow up.....your imagination knew no bounds when you were building a hay bale fort in the barn, roaming the grove on some great adventure, or just sitting in the shade of a tree on a summer afternoon with a book in hand.

I remember how thrilled I was the first time my dad let me drive a tractor alone, and some years later learning how to drive a vehicle on the paths leading between our fields. Those were big moments.

But what I most remember is how hard our parents worked to raise five kids on a half-section of farmland.....at the time probably considered a decent-sized operation but now small potatoes.

We were fairly diverse and largely self-sufficient. We grew corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and raised hogs and cattle.

A good-sized sweet corn patch stood next to our garden, in which tomatoes, green beans, carrots, radishes, strawberries, onions, beets and probably a few other things grew in the rich black Iowa soil.

A dinner (or supper, as was the case in the Midwest) of freshly-picked Iowa sweet corn and steak that came from our own feedlot.....well, you just aren’t going to beat that.

But farming, by its nature, is not without its hardships. Some related to market conditions and commodity prices, but many others were the product of Mother Nature. A mid-summer hail storm could decimate a promising crop. Rainfall was our irrigation; a dry summer meant a lean harvest. And tending to livestock in the depths of winter was certainly a test of will and resiliency.

For all of that, my parents also found time to attend our ball games or school events, take family vacations and and be involved in their community.

I see many of the same traits in California farmers....they are hard-working, often community leaders, who have a passion for agriculture. Few folks are willing to invest so much of themselves in something with nothing promised in return.

They face challenges with markets, water allocations and regulatory climate.

Yet they persevere.....and even when times are bad hold out faith that better years are ahead.

Make no mistake, even as our communities have changed agriculture has remained the backbone of the local economy. Farmers provide jobs for our friends and families, patronize local businesses, get behind causes that make our communities better places....all the while helping feed the nation and the world.

The diversity of California agriculture is stunning, producing commodities that span the alphabet from almonds to zucchini; some on large operations but others as niche growers.

I don’t believe agriculture receives the respect it deserves.

Too many people drive past the fields and orchards with barely a second glance as they go about their lives....perhaps complaining the farm equipment slowing down traffic but not truly taking the time to try to understand or appreciate what they are seeing around them.

True, I also believe that there is a growing movement among people wanting to know more about where their food comes from and how it is produced.....and an increase in those who are becoming small-scale agriculturalists growing their own home gardens.

That’s wonderful. We should take an interest in what we are eating and make informed choices.

But I also believe that too many people take their food supply for granted.....although that may have changed a bit (along with an increase in home gardening) during the past year when the pandemic disrupted supply chains for a time.

The fruits and vegetables which fill grocery store produce departments, the milk, the cheese, the almonds and walnuts, the eggs, the beef, pork and poultry, the butter and the ice cream.....they didn’t just come from the back room of the supermarket.

The men and women in agriculture, from those toiling in the fields and orchards to the truckers and the processors, not to mention an amazing network of essential support services, all played a role in producing and delivering that food which found its way to your table.

California agriculture is nothing short of remarkable.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.