Did you eat today? Thank a producer

Phil Castle

T-shirts, bumper stickers and books pose the question: Did you eat today? For most people, thankfully, the query is rhetorical. The point is the suggestion that follows: Hug a farmer.

These days, I suppose the more appropriate gesture would be to exchange air high fives. Moreover, I’d broaden the suggestion to all agricultural producers, including ranchers.

Not counting a summer job as a carpenter’s assistant on a large hog operation, I’ve never worked as a farmer or rancher. But my grandparents and parents did. One of my best friend’s father was a veterinarian, and we accompanied him on calls. I still recall a hot summer day spent branding and vaccinating calves with real life versions of cowboys I’d previously only seen on TV.

My late wife grew up in Northwest Colorado on what must have been one of the most intensively managed acreages in the world. Her family’s 1-acre lot was home to a menagerie of farm animals. My wife milked cows, raised rabbits and cared for orphaned lambs sheltered in the lone bathroom of her house because the early spring temperatures outside were too cold.

While I luxuriate in these walks down memory lane, I mention all this because I’ve long recognized and appreciated the hard work of farmers and ranchers in growing and raising the food I eat.

My admiration for agricultural producers has only increased as a journalist who occasionally interviews them for newspaper stories.

Take, for example, a recent opportunity to interview Janie VanWinkle, a Grand Valley rancher and newly elected president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. I interviewed Janie once before when she opened a Nick-N-Willy’s pizza franchise. But it was a far different experience talking with Janie as we toured a part of her family’s ranching operation south of Grand Junction.

What impresses me most in talking with producers like Janie are the passion and indefatigable work ethic they bring to their businesses. They care deeply about the land and animals as well the quality of the products they supply customers.

Agricultural producers are a lot like other entrepreneurs in that way as well as the ways in which they persevere in the face of factors beyond their control — a pandemic, for example. Some years, even their best efforts don’t pay the bills.

I suspect a few people still believe food comes from stores, including all that meat under cellophane. But the notion becomes disabused when shelves empty, like what happened in the early stages of the pandemic. Moreover, there’s a growing awareness among consumers of the role of agricultural producers as well as a desire to connect with them. That’s an encouraging trend.

So let me pose the question: Did you eat today? Did you buy food from a store or restaurant? Did you pick up some produce at a stand or farmers market? Did you eat a Palisade peach or savor a glass of Grand Valley wine? Did you grill a hamburger?

For now, thank an agriculture producer. You can save the hugs for later.

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at phil@thebusinesstimes.com or 424-5133.