There are days when I worry about making my payroll and keeping my farming business financially sustainable. There are days when I worry about how Matt and I will pay for all three of our daughters to go to the college of their choice, loan free (which both Matt and I were blessed to be able to do).
There have never been days (in all of my almost 37 years) where I have worried about how I would get food to feed myself and my family.
Matt’s and my farm is a modern farm, and like many farmers in the United States, the fruits of our labor will feed not only our family but also thousands of other people all around the world. In a normal twelve month cycle, I ship between 5000 and 5500 animals to harvest. It takes only one of those animals to feed my family for a year. The other 4999 animals feed people who spend their lives doing something other than farming and growing food. Without me, you do not eat. Without you, I am not blessed with many of the other perks and necessities that fill my life.
It is a system of teamwork; one that enables each American to use their individual talents to bring to fruition the American Dream.
I had never seen subsistence farming until I traveled to Kenya. Webster defines subsistence as the minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life. While not all farming in Kenya is subsistence farming, this is the way of life for many Kenyans.
Small plots of land tilled, planted, weeded, and harvested by hand marked the countryside.
Small groups of livestock, either herded by a family member or tethered by a rope on the side of the road to graze, were common.
Any additional bounty was hauled (predominantly by hand) to local markets to be sold.
The unemployment rate in Kenya is higher than 40% and there is not government assistance to those who do not have a job. Consequently, large family groups work as a team to create the necessary resources for subsistence. There are many that, unlike me, worry about what they will eat for the next meal.
Any of you who have a vegetable garden know how much work goes into growing food. The last couple of years, I have been on a mission to teach my children how to grow their own garden. My single largest challenge has been motivating them to do the “grunt” work of weeding. They just plain do not want to work that hard because they know that they can always go inside to the refrigerator and effortlessly find food to eat. My children have never been hungry.
Imagine growing all of your food by hand (no tiller, no planter, no mechanized way to weed, no sprinklers to water with, no mechanized way to harvest, no car to use to transport the excess to market or to a friend or family member that you share with). Imagine spending your morning milking a cow or goat, then walking a mile to the stream to gather water, then spending your afternoon planting/weeding/harvesting your garden. Hunger is a powerful motivator.
Kenya (like the United States) is seeing a large influx of population shift from the rural areas to the city. Young people are looking for a different life than the one described above. The challenge then becomes creating a farming system to feed 40 million people when much of the farming is still done by hand. As we drove across the central part of the country, I saw some large “European style” crop farms that looked quite a bit like my husband’s farm.
I also saw some huge greenhouses dotted along the countryside (cut flowers exported to Europe is one of the largest industries in the country).
But, intermixed between these, were many more subsistence farms.
There is a big debate going on in our country right now about what type of farming is best. Is it modern farming? Is it local farms and markets? Is it organic farming? Is it some combination? While this issue is very complex, my trip to Kenya reinforced in my mind that hunger is still an issue. With a growing world population and a limited number of natural resources, as a farmer, I must continue to strive to do a better job just plain feeding people.
Instead of getting caught up in philosophical issues about what type of food is best, I need to be eternally thankful that I have never wondered what I would feed my children for dinner.
It will be very interesting to watch my girls this summer with our vegetable garden to see if the trip to Kenya taught them anything about appreciating and growing food…