Stillwater News Press

Local Columnists

June 14, 2014

Seed to Table 06-15-14

Many in nation take food lightly

As I began this issue, I had just returned from a tour of the farm and been forcibly struck by the devastation the drought had wrought. The reality: there will not be enough food coming off this land to feed me or the cattle this winter – not to mention all the wildlife it usually supports.

And yet, my thoughts are ones of gratitude, not despair; gratitude for what it will provide and that I have the resources to acquire what will be additionally needed.

Two thoughts keep coming to mind: something I wrote, and something I heard – both several years ago.

I ended a 2008 article in a News Press insert with a plea that we “learn to be grateful for food.”

About that same time a very telling comment was made to me.

Having just received a grant from the Department of Agriculture to establish an orchard, someone asked for a copy. That person was very upset because he believed the department was making him jump through too many hoops to establish a similar project. “After all” he said, “plant trees, make jam; what else is there to it?”

Well there is a lot more to it! First, food production is not that simple; and second, food is not an entitlement – an attitude this person’s comments conveyed.  

Yes, food is essential to life, but our affluent lifestyle has spoiled us; it has left us with the beliefs that food (whatever kind we want, whenever we want it) is easy to generate, unlimited, and therefore our “right.”

My little stroll around the farm suggests that those beliefs are misplaced. For lack of moisture, the normal spring hay crop never materialized; and at the moment there is barely enough grass to meet the cattle’s immediate needs, let alone provide a surplus to cut as hay. Further, the wheat and barley yields this year will be only a fraction of normal. Recent rains may help produce a 2014 fall harvest, but cannot replace this lost 2014 spring harvest.

There will simply not be enough hay or gain to carry the herd through the winter; and, I will have to either buy additional feed and/or sell a portion of the herd

Every cattleman in the county is facing this problem. However, I may be a little better off than many, because a couple years ago I began putting into place plans for reducing waste, and keeping a full year’s supply of food on hand – for me and the cows.  Full pantries, and conservative use of what we have, are the best insurance policies I know against hunger.

My point is that putting food on all our tables requires an enormous effort on the part of many people (farmers, processors, haulers, equipment and supply producers, etc.), and a lot of good fortune. It is nothing short of a miracle that we have plenty to eat. Let’s not waste it nor be ungrateful for it; it can all fall apart with little warning.

  Richard A. "Dick" Ortez earned a doctorate degree from Creighton University in microbiology. During the past 40 years, he has taught elements of food science at the university and medical school levels, operated a café, and run a truck farm and food processing business. He writes the Seed to Table column at his farm near Glencoe and welcomes questions, comments and suggestions sent to

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