Back to our roots

Published 9:47 pm Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sometimes the changes in our community hit with a starkness that comes almost as a shock. A story in Thursday’s edition of the Suffolk News-Herald was a case in point.

During field trips Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 1,000 second-grade students from Suffolk’s public schools visited a working farm to learn a little about the city’s agricultural heritage. The scene served as a reminder of just how much has changed in the years since agriculture reigned in Suffolk.

There was a time when absences at area schools during the past couple of months would have been higher than normal as students stayed home to help out with the harvest on the family’s farm. Back then, most of the city’s youth, even those who didn’t live on a farm, knew something of what it meant to raise crops and livestock. They had at least a passing understanding of man’s relationship to the land.

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Today, however, there are relatively few family farms left in Suffolk. Most kids grow up with no connection at all to the farmers who supply their food and the cotton for their clothes. For most folks, including adults, the closest they’ll come to a farm is when they stop at a roadside stand for fresh produce. Some people never even get that close, relying exclusively instead on the produce counter at their neighborhood supermarket.

Among the things that have been lost to that progress are an appreciation for the miracle of horticulture and the hard work that goes into agricultural production.

That’s why it’s important to have programs such as the one put on for the sixth year in a row this week by the Peanut Soil and Water Conservation District and the Virginia Tech Research Station. The second-graders who visited the research station got to see, touch and smell the elements of a modern farm. They got to see what cotton looks like as it grows, hear the squeals of pigs and run their fingers through the rich soil that still sustains agriculture in Suffolk.

The days are surely gone when every family in the area either owned or worked a farm or at least knew others who did so. Industry, technology and retail are the primary employers in Suffolk today, and that marks progress. But it’s comforting to know that there are people who dedicate themselves to making sure that Suffolk’s youngest generation never loses touch with its roots.