This week is Georgia Ag Week. In the spirit of Georgia Ag Week, I wanted to write about the importance of agriculture in Towns and Union Counties. Agriculture is the number one industry in Georgia, and has importance in many different aspects of our lives. So let’s take a little time to talk about the impact and importance of agriculture where we live.
Over the years, Americans have become more and more distanced from the farmers that feed them. Today the average American farmer feeds 166 people. As the world population continues to increase, that number will only go up. 86% of the Ag products sold in the US are produced on family farms or ranches. One number that is alarming to many people is the average age of the American farmer. This number continues to increase and today is at almost 60 years old.
These days there is a movement to buy your food from a local farmer. This movement is great at putting money back into the pockets of farmers. On average farmers only get $0.08 on the dollar of the money that consumers spend on food. The rest of the costs are taken up by transportation, wages, processing, marketing, and distribution. Many of those costs are necessary, but the farther we get away from where our food is produced the less money is going back into farmers’ pockets. That means buying food directly from farmers either at a farmers market, farm store, or through a CSA will put more money back into the farmers’ pocket.
In the mountains, we have a strong and unique heritage of agriculture that has changed over the years. Lately, we have seen a growth of agritourism. The growing wine industry in North Georgia is evidence of that. We also have a number of farms that take visitors, so that you can go on a tour. These too are agritourism. We continue to have many cattle as well. Cattle farms can be a benefit to the economy because they take land that would otherwise not be productive and make it productive. Cattle farms that incorporate conservation practices are great for the environment. Sweet sorghum for syrup is a crop that is unique to the mountains. It can be used for biscuits, pancakes or any number of things. Sourwood honey is another product that is unique to our area. Sourwood trees grow in a large portion of Eastern US, but in most places don’t produce the nectar flow for bees to make sourwood honey. The shorter growing season that we have means that we get a higher number of chill hours, as is required by apple trees. The diversity of southern apple varieties is due in large part to the Cherokee propagating and spreading apple trees.
The food that we eat carries our cultural ancestry with it. It is literally and figuratively a part of who we are. To lose that heritage is to lose a part of ourselves. I encourage everyone support farmers because in doing so, you support the local economy, personal nutrition and health, and the culture that makes us who we are today. The next time you eat be thankful to the farmer that grew or raised it. It is my privilege to support farmers and I am thankful for all that they do for us.
If you would like to know more about farming or agriculture contact your County Extension Office or email me at Jacob.Williams@uga.edu.