Headin’ for the Last Roundup
His tone was rather quarrelsome. Or maybe I just don’t like a finger stuck under my nose.
“Why do you waste so many words on agriculture?”
“Because,” I said, hanging my cap on his finger, “it is my favorite subject. It is the most exciting enterprise in the world today.”
He exploded. “Exciting? What is exciting about feeding hogs and milking cows twice a day? You’ve seen one wheat field, you’ve seen ‘em all. It’s the most hum-drum subject in the world.”
“It is,” I said, “it is that… unless you stop to consider.”
“That agriculture is the beginning of everything.”
He wasn’t really my enemy; he was my friend, and he really thought I spent too much time writing on agricultural subjects. But I got him to sit still and listen…
Agriculture is flesh, blood and bone. It is human bodies. It is shoes and shirts, coats and skirts. It is the roof over your head and in most cases the floor of your home.
“If it wasn’t for agriculture,” I said, “there would be no civilization as we know it. No cities, no paved highways, no airports, no dreaming for discovery of little green people on Mars. No…”
Maybe I warm too quickly to criticism of agriculture. But I get weary of its being taken for granted, too.
Envision, if you will, your primitive ancestors, scavengers across the land, spread out in food gathering chains ten miles long. Scouring the land for anything that crawled or blinked, devouring it on the spot.
At some point man caught a litter of wild dog pups and domesticated them, put a vine noose over the head of a bogged-down pre-horse.
And man became a hunter and a herder. Food came more easily. He extended his life span. The land-man ratio decreased.
The pressure for food caused man to learn the cycle of seeding and harvesting. Agriculture was born. The stage was set for true civilization.
From a quarter billion persons on the face of the earth 50,000 years ago, earth’s population had doubled by 1650. By 1725 the stage was set for the Agricultural Revolution, and by 1850 the earth’s population had doubled again.
The Agricultural Revolution brought on the Industrial Revolution because masses of men were freed from the land to go into the cities and build great factories and turn out consumer goods.
An explosion of agricultural technology today makes it possible for one farmer to feed fifty or sixty others, and the others are increasingly engaged in creating goods and services to make life more interesting for all.
Economically, agriculture starts the ball rolling. Each year, new raw wealth enters the system. The wealth is obtained from new sources – agriculture and mining.
As each unit of production is monetarized, the money moves through the economic system, turning over seven or eight times before the product is finally consumed and a need is created for more production, more raw wealth is fed into the system.
Ah, but this is only part of agriculture’s excitement.
The very flesh of your body, the bones of your skeleton, the cells of your brain, that’s agriculture only in a slightly different form.
You arise with the sun. You consume milk, eggs, bacon, butter, toast, a grapefruit. These masticated agriculture products are carried by your bodily transportation system, the bloodstream, in the extremities of your body. Each of the 70 trillion or so cells of your body lie alongside a capillary. They sup at this table.
The diluted food nutrients – these chemical elements of which the very earth is constructed, the calcium, the phosphorus, the potash cobalt and magnesium – seep through the capillary walls, are absorbed through the cell walls and become you.
You are, indeed, what you eat.
Physical life is a cycle, some three score and ten years. Stephen Vincent Benet put it in a haunting verse –
“Go play with your towns you’ve made of blocks
“The towns where you would have bound me.
“I sleep in the ground like a tired fox
“And my buffalo have found me.”
Earth to earth, dust to dust; agriculture is the beginning of life and civilization and everything in between.
I asked my friend, “Can you think of anything more exciting?”
“Yes,” he said. “Watching you froth at the mouth when I tell you agriculture is the most hum-drum subject in the world.”