Fifty-eight years ago, I began working in horticulture. I assure you I did not know what horticulture was or how to pronounce it, but I was old enough to pick vegetables and I quickly learned if a tomato, cucumber, bean or pea was ready to harvest.

I may have only been 4 years old but I had graduated from playing in the shade at the end of the field while watching my parents and siblings work and little did I realize that I would never go back or have it “made in the shade” ever again.”

Daddy sold some of the crop but most went to feed me and my eight brothers and sisters. All I can remember is my sore fingers because after picking bushel upon bushel we would do the messy pealing and shucking on our screened-in front porch where the acid of the tomatoes ate away my fingertips. Then we would shell or snap beans and peas at night, again tearing away at my fingernails while we watched “Mission Impossible,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and wrestling. I guess you could call this my “moonlighting or weekend job” because during the week I picked cotton or butterbeans from sunup to sundown on Granddaddy’s farm.

To add to all of this, when I reached 10 years old I began working at McLeod’s Peach Shed in McBee, where I learned more about fruits, vegetables, and row crops and earned enough money to pay my way through Clemson University to learn more about farming. Since then I have done work in research, extension, on farms and, farm advising, but I still learn every day about growing plants and farming.

Today farming is high tech, mentally and physically exhausting and, in my opinion, the greatest challenge on earth. If you think operating a factory under a roof, within walls, air conditioned, with consistent inputs and products is difficult, consider a farm as an external factory with rain, wind, hail, heat, cold, with living constantly changing inputs and products.

This is why I cringe every time I hear someone, who had never even played at the end of a crop field or dedicated their life to ag such as a politician, reporter, homeowner, or even a doctor (shut up Dr. Oz), tell the agricultural world how they should be farming or feeding the seven-plus billion people in the world. Most do not understand how complicated and important, but at the same time fragile, our food supply system really is.

We got a little taste of this with the COVID-9 scare, and I have no scientific data to back this, but my personal estimate is that we have about a one-month food supply in this country. I believe that in the first week because of social media and 24 hour news everyone would know the predicament we are in if our food supply halts and every morsel of food would disappear from the grocery stores, even worse than what happens before a snowstorm in South Carolina. In the second week the restock from warehouses would last less than one day. The third week’s restock would only last a few hours.

People who had money to buy may possess enough food to last for months or even years but then the chaos begins. People get mean when they are hungry. Please never talk bad about farming and farmers with your mouth full.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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