More than watching crops grow

Published 12:17 am Saturday, October 29, 2011

I’ve had a lot of exciting experiences covering agriculture lately.

It always amazes me when I visit farms and talk to farmers in Suffolk. The fact that the globe’s population is racing toward seven billion, and there’s still space to grow enough food, fiber products and decorative plants for all those people is simply beyond my comprehension.

I got up early a few Saturdays ago to visit the home of Mike Helvestine, who is a local Christmas tree farmer and member of the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association.

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I was interviewing Mike for the upcoming holiday edition of Suffolk Living, a glossy magazine that is a sister publication to the Suffolk News-Herald.

He explained to me how much work it takes for him to grow trees, just for them to be cut down, stuck in someone’s house for a month or so and then thrown out. He has to continually shape them, tie them up, pick bugs out of them and perform numerous other tasks that he never imagined when he first got into the business about 12 years ago.

However, Mike told me, it’s all worth it when he sees families come to cut down a tree on Black Friday, rather than hitting the store sales.

“To see somebody smiling and having a really good time here, that’s why I do it,” he said.

Also recently, I talked to some peanut and cotton farmers about the challenges they face trying to harvest their crops. Heavy rain this year presented a roadblock to farmers, who need relatively dry land to run heavy equipment on.

Peanut farmers in this area say they’ve had a decent harvest this year, but many won’t be cashing in on the prices that are rising because of a nationwide shortage. Better luck next year, I guess, is the farmer’s mantra.

Also, I attended the presentation of sets of books on agricultural topics to all the Suffolk elementary schools by the Nansemond County Farm Bureau women’s committee.

Sponsored by a grant from the Monsanto Company, as well as local businesses, the sets include about 25-30 books each.

As I waited for the presentation, I pulled some of the books out of their bags and flipped through them. They were about a variety of topics — vegetables, row crops, farm machinery and more — but they all described in simple, kid-friendly terms how agriculture affects their lives.

Despite its impressive growth in recent years, Suffolk is still an agricultural community in many ways. Even so, many children have never seen what corn looks like in the husk, don’t know that sweet potatoes and carrots grow underground and think peanuts come out of a bag or a can.

Educating children on how their food is grown is vitally important to getting them to understand the future of our planet. Many thanks to the women’s committee for spearheading the project to get these books in schools.

Furthermore, many thanks to the farmers in the city and across the country who are working hard to provide for the rest of us.