By Gene Hall
When I was in the eighth grade, my father loaned me his copy of The 1949 Yearbook of Agriculture–“Trees”–to prepare for a 4-H forestry judging contest. It helped our team win third place. When published by the Department of Agriculture, the yearbook devoted a substantial volume to a single subject of research or agricultural science.
When I left for a job with the Texas Farm Bureau in 1977, Dad gifted me his entire collection of USDA yearbooks. I’ve added to it over the years and received some gifts of hard-to-find volumes. I now own every year from 1932 until publication ceased in 1992. There are also volumes from 1896, 1918 and 1919. I’ll continue to collect them. Everyone has to have a hobby.
The thing that strikes me in leafing through those old volumes is the sense of national pride in our burgeoning capability to grow food. It was very much a celebration of a capacity that few other nations in the world could match. Farmers were proud of what they could do, but their rewards did not match their contributions until modern agricultural technology was born. They learned to do more with less.
When the yearbook was discontinued in 1992, it was a budget problem. But I believe America was also over the celebration. Then, and now, we take the availability of food for granted. That’s also a good thing. In many nations, the search for food is constant and the price high. Here, we don’t even worry about it most of the time.
My books describe a history that tracked an arc of time from hunger to bounty; from a time when every hand was needed on the plow, trailing mules down long rows, to a time of when one farmer feeds more than 150 people–a time of great plenty.
That journey was an American triumph—a source of national pride. So should it still be.