Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock, our most important natural resources. You don’t have to be a farm equipment dealer, or an Agriculture Enthusiast, or a USDA employee, to be affected by it every single day. Think about it. Every time you eat something, from veggies to meat to soy, and every time you drink a beverage, from milk to orange juice to tequila (mmm, tequila), you’re influenced by the world of agriculture.
Have you ever been on a road trip and driven by a farm? If you live in the United States, of course you have, they’re everywhere. It’s not just the obvious ag-related things like food, drink, and farms that touch our daily lives. When you brush your teeth, you use toothpaste containing sorbitol, produced from corn sugar dextrose. When you get dressed, you’re likely wearing cotton, produced by a cotton farmer. When you color (admit it, you still do), your crayons are probably made from soybeans. When you play sports, most balls are made from leather. Well, not tennis or golf balls, that would be weird (side note – originally, tennis and golf balls were actually made from leather).
Agriculture has been one of most important and pervasive interests since the dawn of humanity. Yet, as prevalent and fundamental as it is, the agriculture community doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We @ theTUNDRA believe that its day in the sun is long overdue, so we’re shining a light on this fascinating industry.
But we’re meeting you, the Everyday Enthusiast who might not be steeped in all things ag, on your terms, where we know you’re at - with your head buried online, knee deep in pop culture. This is especially true in the days of Covid-19, when we all have more leisure time on our hands. That’s why we’re introducing you to the agriculture world with a few of the best agro-influenced entertainment classics in pop culture - yes, entertainment - hey, we’re headquartered in LA, what did you expect?
This 1989 Kevin Costner classic, nominated for three Oscars, turned the phrase, “if you build it, he will come” into one of the most famous movie quotes of the century. Costner plays a farmer whose Iowa homestead is teetering on bankruptcy, so he goes on a mission to save it by doing what anyone would do in those circumstances. Yep, he turns his cornfield into a baseball diamond. The ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson shows up to play and the rest is history.
Fun Farm Fact: there was a drought in Iowa during filming in 1988 and the crew had to deal with tiny corn crops by digging up the corn fields to make the stalks the right height for the famous scene where the lead actors walk among the stalks. Since filming, Costner’s Field Of Dreams is a major midwestern tourist attraction drew 115,000 visitors last year, making it one of Iowa’s top destinations and certainly the #1 bucket list stop for baseball fans worldwide.
Also of note, in August, 2020, the Yankees and White Sox will play a game at the infamous ball field.
The Yankees aside, let’s bring it back to cornfields, because food is one of the four primary agricultural industries, and corn is a staple of the American food chain (besides corn, the biggest U.S. food production categories are wheat, dairy, meat, and soybeans). The other three categories of agricultural products are Fibers (wool, silk, cotton, hemp), Fuels (ethanol produced by burning sorghum, corn and sugarcane) and Raw Materials (livestock and feed).
A few more fun facts about corn: Iowa produces the most of it, followed by Illinois and Nebraska. In total, U.S. corn growers produce approximately 15 billion bushels a year, which is about one bushel for every dollar of Kevin Costner’s net worth.
This 1995 gem of a movie tells the story of an orphaned pig who moves to a farm and desperately wants to do the work of a sheepdog. It won the 1996 Oscar for Best Visual Effects, not to mention a place in our hearts forever.
Farming has been an integral part of human history for obvious reasons and its history in the United States is no exception. Since the country’s founding in 1776, farms have been part of the fabric of American life. More than any other country, U.S. exports feed the global population – agriculture is our main export. There are more than 2 million operating farms in the U.S. today, seemingly a huge number, but that’s about 5 million less than existed back in the 1930’s. In “Agricultural Societies,” over half the population works as farmers, where, despite pastoral appearances of being more connected to the land, everyday life is extraordinarily demanding. Livestock doesn’t take Christmas or the 4th of July off. But you knew all of that, because by now, you’re well on your way to being an Agriculture Enthusiast.
American farms run the gamut, from dairy farms to tobacco farms to livestock farms and everything in between. In 2018, the total value of U.S. agricultural exports was $140 billion. U.S. meat production is 52,079 million pounds a year, U.S. grain production is 475.3 million tons per year, U.S. corn production is 366.3 million tons per year and U.S. milk production is 217.5 billion pounds per year.
We’d also like to give a quick shout out to Amish communities, who despite the 21st century cultural odds, have kept their historical legacy deeply rooted in all things organic – from family to transportation to spirituality and dining. Hey, just putting two and two together here, maybe there’s another BABE sequel, BABE BUILDS A BARN? Or would that be a squeal-quel? Sorry.
British band Jethro Tull is known for the classic song “Aqualung.” Little known fact: they’re named for the British farm equipment and agriculture hero with the same handle. The real Jethro was a huge part of the Agricultural Revolution of the early 1700’s. He invented the seed drill, improved the plow and also improved the horse drawn hoe, which helped loosen soil for planting. His creativity led to large scale production of food crops like potatoes and corn.
In England, farming is exponentially more integrated into everyday life than in America. In case you’re looking for inspiration to make a trip across the pond, British dairy is out of this world. It’s just so damn…buttery. As in worthy of its own Netflix series. It’s definitely way better quality than the 2011 Jennifer Garner movie, BUTTER.
Back to Jethro, the importance of his farm equipment inventions can’t be overstated. They were arguably just as groundbreaking as the ancient Egyptian developments in the fields of fermenting yeast, which led to bread and alcohol. Though we’re not taking anything away from the Egyptians. We love our daily beer. And wine. And tequila. We may have a problem.
THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES
Jethro Tull isn’t the only famous pop culture Jethro with an agricultural bent. There’s also Jethro Bodine, who was played by Max Baer Jr. in one of the most well-known sitcoms ever, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES.
The show ran from 1962 to 1971 and followed the Clampetts, a poor backwoods family from the Ozark mountains (which are close to entertainment mecca Branson, Missouri, which Jed Clampett would have invested in had VCs existed back then). Jed Clampett discovered oil on his land, struck it rich, and moved to Beverly Hills because, who wouldn’t? Is Jethro Bodine, Jed’s nephew, also named after the real Jethro Tull? We’ll never know.
The irony is, despite their appearance, the Clampetts were legit wealthy, as compared to some of the transplants we know who are living in Beverly Hills, renting way beyond their means and “faking it til they make it.” Hey, if they fail, it’s no sweat, because no one back home will ever find out about their lackluster performance. All Main Street will know is that you live in LA, baby – there’s gravitas in that, right?
The 1940 screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, THE GRAPES OF WRATH is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made in the United States, which is fitting, because the same can be said of the book.
The legendary John Ford won the Oscar in 1941 for Best Director. Don’t be fooled by the title, it’s not a story about grapes with anger issues. It’s about the Joads, an Oklahoma family who lose their farm in the depression, become migrant workers, travel cross country and settle in California, where work is scarce and things are even more bleak. GRAPES is known for its vibrant depiction of the poor and working class, which is particularly relevant these days in the Golden State, given the explosion of the homeless population.
Hey, at least we have amazing weather out here, which is one of the reasons that California is the epicenter, the number one producing state of American agriculture, worth north of $50 billion annually. In fact, the state is the world’s 5th largest supplier of food.
It’s also no shocker that Cali also leads the U.S. in organic agriculture, which is worth about $3 billion per year. Hey, in this state, if you have an aversion to kale, you may as well publicly announce you’re not a Beyonce fan, or even worse, order a Diet Coke with a plastic straw.
Overall, organic Agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Agriculture industry. In 2018, the U.S. reached a record breaking $51.5 billion in sales of organic foods, up 6.3% from the previous year. But there’s an incongruency with Organic farming generally. Organic famers pride themselves on being, well, organic, but peel the onion and you may find that the hay Organic farmers feed their cows was grown on a farm that cultivates land using man-made products of some sort. In other words, sometimes, it ain’t as organic as you think.
American farmers, regardless of whether they’re “organic”, make best efforts to avoid using synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones or antibiotics. Organic Agriculture is also known for creating an area around farmland to avoid contamination from neighboring lands, and avoiding genetic engineering and ionizing radiation, resulting in less chemical exposure, better soil fertility, and better profit potential. Disadvantages of organic farming include the fact that it’s highly labor intensive, there are lower yields and the market size is smaller. It would be biased reporting if we didn’t point out that non-organic consumers seem waaay more fun than those picky organic ones.
An extremely insightful and passionate story about organic farming is told in the amazing, award-winning documentary BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, released in 2018. We highly recommend it.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the movie PLACES IN THE HEART, which has some striking similarities to GRAPES OF WRATH. Like that film, PLACES, starring Sally Field, takes place during the depression, concerns a family farm and is considered a classic. Sally won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance. In her acceptance speech, she famously proclaimed, “you like me!” It’s true Sally, we do. But not nearly as much as we like organic food (at least that’s what we say in LA to avoid being fed to the mountain lions roaming by the Hollywood sign).
THE HORSE WHISPERER
1998’s THE HORSE WHISPERER, based on the novel of the same name, stars Robert Redford and Scarlett Johansson. Redford plays a horse trainer especially talented at understanding horses who helps nurse ScarJo and her horse back to health.
This reminds us that there are tons of interesting career options in the field of Agriculture. If you’re an agricultural engineer, you could specialize in farming (growing plants, raising livestock, aquaculture farming to raise seafood). Or you could concentrate on forestry (growing tree foods like fruits and nuts or working in orchards). Or maybe you’d love a career in food processing (maintaining food safety and ensuring quality, food storage solutions and transportation processes, developing more effective refrigeration systems). Or you could pull a Redford and become an incredible animal trainer who gets to hang out with ScarJo, Kate Bosworth and Kristin Scott Thomas, the Ag industry’s version of CHARLIE’S ANGELS.
The great news is this: The demand for Agricultural engineers is projected to remain steady and there’s a plethora of universities specializing in the subject, like the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin and South Dakota State University just to name a few. Job security and the enjoyment of working off the land? What more could you want? An Oscar, perhaps. But, like THE HORSE WHISPERER, you may have to settle for the satisfaction of a job well done.
Another John Ford classic, this 1952 film with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara won Ford his fourth, yes fourth, Best Director Oscar. Shot in Ireland, the story follows Wayne as he moves to the pastoral Irish countryside to buy his family’s former farm. He falls in love with Maureen and battles her brother, who’s a bullying land owner. The movie ends with an epic fight sequence that spills out into the street, just like every bar room brawl in the U.K. If you don’t believe us, check out The Daily Mail, one of our go-to faves.
Which brings to mind the epic battle over genetically modified food.
Some people are up in arms over genetically modified organisms, or “GMO.” Other people see genetically engineering food as necessary, a natural progression of evolving with the times. Either way, using genetically modified crops is one of the most urgent issues of today. Rapid progress of global warming means that there’s a need to develop at least some level of genetic engineering in crop management and farming. Experiments like the “Golden Rice Project” show that it can have valuable benefits, like increasing the amount of Vitamin A in rice, resulting in improved health in kids.
The reality is, 90% or more of crops grown in the U.S. are already genetically modified in some fashion, which means that in 90% or more of crops, scientists use genetic engineering to alter the DNA of a plant. GMO food just might be the next stage of the Agricultural Revolution.
What are the pros? GMO food is safe to consume, reduces hunger worldwide, loses less water and requires less pesticides, and it often produces fewer carbon emissions. The cons: it may have an unknown, long term impact and it may increase allergies in kids. In the last decade, child allergies have spiked from 3.4% to 5.1%. Some scientists theorize that GMO food may be making youngsters resistant to antibiotics.
To get your mind off that unpleasant possibility, we suggest that you kick back, relax and watch one of the greatest American movies of the 20th century, THE QUIET MAN.
George Orwell’s seminal novel, published in 1945, is considered one of the most influential British books ever. An allegory, it follows a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a more fair, equal society. But the rebellion fails and the farm ends up worse off because of the ruthless pig dictator, Napoleon. Orwell said that his story reflected the political situation leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Yep, just a little light reading.
Honorable Mention in the “Pop Culture Items With Farm In The Title” category goes to Bob Dylan’s 1965 song, MAGGIE’S FARM, in which he repeatedly sings, “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.” We get it Bob, you’re not a farm person.
Speaking of farming-related conflicts, the meat and dairy industries are facing an existential crisis because so many people are going vegan, and the Green New Deal threatens to shut down a great deal of livestock farming generally. The vegan movement is also getting quite the public relations push due to movies like the Netflix documentary, THE GAME CHANGERS. We know which side Bob Dylan and Napoleon the pig would pick in that argument. Hint: it rhymes with “shmegan.”
By the way, did you know that Melissa McCarthy, Taylor Swift and Charlize Theron grew up on farms? And Zach Galifianakis, Mark Ruffalo and Martha Stewart currently live on farms? Do you know who doesn’t live on a farm? Bob Dylan. For more on farms and family values, check out theTUNDRA TV video from the World Dairy Expo, where we spoke to Nicolas Lalande, an eighth generation farmer, and Courtney Booth, who discusses the important lessons her children have learned from farm life.
YOU’RE AN AGRICULTURE ENTHUSIAST NOW
Congratulations, intrepid reader, you’ve gone from an Everyday Enthusiast to a full-fledged Agriculture Enthusiast. The question is, how do you pursue your new passion?
Start by going to the United States Department Of Agriculture’s site, where you can search everything about some of our most important natural resources, from careers to food to nutrition to ag-related statistics to some great photos of our esteemed USDA Secretary Of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue.
When you’re ready to take your agriculture enthusiasm to the next level, think about hitting festivals like Dairyfest in Marshfield, Wisconsin or the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. Or perhaps you should check out World Ag Expo held annually in Tulare, California and/or the International Production And Processing Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, the world’s largest annual poultry, meat and feed industry event of its kind.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, go to www.vegan.com and peruse some of the best festivals and expos to attend, which also happen to be amazing for the entire family, including the California Vegetarian Food Festival, www.cavegfoodfest.com, and the Trailing Of The Sheep Festival held each October in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Satiate your hunger to be the best Agriculture Enthusiast you can be – your and your family’s future depends on it.
Jim Bridenstine, Chief Administrator Of NASA, was the keynote speaker at the 2019 World Ag Expo, where he said the U.S. has already started an intergalactic Agriculture endeavor - farming on Mars. The team @ theTUNDRA looks forward to seeing you there.