Several years ago when my agent and I were pitching my second book, we made the round of New York publishers, hoping to find enough interest to propel the book into an auction similar to my first one.
At HarperCollins, which is housed in a high rise building near Fifth Avenue, we were shown into a glass-walled conference room where we sat down, waiting for the editorial and marketing folks to come in.
“You’ll have something in common with this editor,” my agent said. “He comes from Mississippi. You Southerners like to stick together.”
I sat up straight. “Mississippi?” I grinned. “I just spoke to the Mississippi Poultry Association.”
My agent was, at first, taken aback. Then after a pause, he broke into laughter.
“Why are you laughing?” I asked, puzzled.
He shook his head still chuckling and said, “You’re pulling my leg. Really? There is such a thing as the Mississippi Poultry Association?”
Please do not think unkindly of him. He is one of the finest men I’ve ever known. I have a publishing career because of him. But he was born and raised in Manhattan which means that he’s just uninformed of all things rural.
“Where do you think that chicken you eat comes from?” I asked. “Do you think that chickens just walk down Fifth Avenue, turn the corner into a side street, then walk through the door of a grocery store or restaurant? There are hard-working farmers, laboring by the sweat of their brows and the turn of their hands, to send food to New York City.”
At that moment, before he could say anything further, the HarperCollins folks filed into the conference room — including the editor from Mississippi. After introductions, as people settled into their chairs, I recounted the Mississippi Poultry Association story.
“Poultry is serious business to a lot of farmers in Mississippi and elsewhere,” the editor said. Then he launched into a story of how, every year, Mississippians stranded in New York, either by choice or circumstance, gathered in Central Park to share their heritage. They invited me to speak one year but it conflicted with another commitment. We talked more about farmers and what they mean to Americans.
My agent was silenced. I’m not sure but this shared fellowship between the editor and me might be to thank for the significant preemptive bid the editor made to keep the book from going to auction. HarperCollins bought the book and it was a delightful experience to work with them all.
I share this for this reason: millions of people dwelling in metro cities have no idea what the rural farmers face to deliver product to their dining tables. Many sit down to eat baked chicken, hamburgers, or kale and it never crosses their minds how hard someone worked to fill their stomachs.
In New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and other booming cities, they may not have given one thought to the farmer who is becoming discouraged by the work it takes, the hot sun that burns their necks to red leather, the unpredictable weather patterns and a fluctuating market that barely allows them to break even. Sometimes, they’ve broken their backs to deliver beef, chicken, pork, and vegetables at a loss for the year. This means the poor farmer has to reach into a meager savings account to save the farm.
We drove through beautiful farm land recently and Tink commented on it. “Yeah, it’s pretty,” I replied, “Until the farmer has to sell the land and it becomes another lookalike subdivision.”
America, across the country, has to start appreciating our farmers more because the demand is increasing as the population booms while the number of farmers decreases. We should invest in and encourage organizations like Future Farmers of America which encourages students to become farmers. Farmers are heroes. They need our love and appreciation.
Without them, Americans will starve.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes Tuesdays.