November 27, 2011

A thankful time of year

Peter Hagar: Cornell Ag Connection

---- — In today's world of consumerism and hectic lifestyles, I wonder if we still remember why we give thanks at this time of year. It seems that Thanksgiving has become just a prelude to the frenzy of pre-holiday shopping that we are constantly reminded of for weeks before the holiday.

What we generally refer to as the original Thanksgiving was, in a sense, a celebration of survival. It was in all probability a typical harvest feast that was common in most agrarian societies.

The settlers who arrived in Plymouth, Mass., less than a year before had just begun to farm and with the help of the Native Americans were able to grow enough to survive the winter. From those desperate beginnings, through good times and bad, we have continued to survive and prosper. Our prosperity has in no small way been due to the rich bounty of the land and the hard work of the men and women of agriculture.

This past year was an example of how difficult it is to farm and grow our food. The spring started off with seemingly unending rain, record lake levels and severe flooding. The summer followed with heat and drought and then the fall finished it all up with Tropical Storm Irene. It is this kind of uncertainty and adversity that farmers have had to endure throughout history. There are many variables that affect the growing of crops and livestock. The weather, plant and animal diseases, insect pests, the availability of labor and machinery breakdowns all contribute to the uncertainty and risk involved in farming. The fact that most of us no longer have to depend on our backyard garden to survive is surely something for which to be thankful.

While recognizing the difficulties of growing your own food, it has become more and more popular in recent times. Even though the American food supply is the best in the world — abundant, safe, low cost and with wide choices and high nutritional value, there are many reasons to want to become more self sufficient.

One of the main reasons is that homegrown produce or livestock can often taste better, be fresher and you can be more secure in the knowledge of how it was produced. The pride of growing your own food is also a great source of satisfaction and pleasure. If you don't have the time or room to have a garden, you can still grow a small portion of your food in a community garden or in patio pots.

An alternative would be to seek out small local producers who can offer you the same freshness and quality of homegrown food. Local farm stands and farmer's markets offer a wide variety of locally produced fruits and vegetables in season. By supporting local farmers, you can sustain the economic viability of local agriculture and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Our local farmers help to maintain the open spaces and scenic vistas that we all enjoy, provide habitat and food (sometimes unwillingly) for wildlife and remind us of our rich agricultural heritage. That is something we call all be thankful for as well.

If you are interested in growing your own food, Cornell Cooperative Extension can offer a wealth of knowledge and assistance in all aspects of agricultural production.

From backyard gardening, commercial horticulture and fruit production to dairy, livestock and even forestry, Cooperative Extension has programs and personnel dedicated to helping you explore your opportunities and become successful.

For more information on all the programs that Cornell Cooperative Extension has to offer, call our local office at 561-7450 or email me at

Peter Hagar, agriculture program educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County, 6064 Rt. 22, Plattsburgh, 12901. Call 561-7450.