Its strange for me, 20 years-old, to think about how half of my life has been post September 11th. For many readers, you may think that all I’ve grown up in was fear and certainly fear has been a part of many of my formative years.  But I do remember a time before September 11th, 2011. When we were worried more about presidential interns and the hard times of 1998 for hog farmers.  Better than that, we never felt insecure from attacks on our soil. The USS Cole seemed so distant and the Oklahoma City Bombing was easy to dismiss as a rogue lunatic.  Life may have been hard at times (again 1998 rings a bell for those of us who love the other white meat) but life was simple at risk of sounding too cliché. 

So lets jump forward a little bit, we’re 10 years after 9/11 and we’ve made strides towards putting the tragedies to the back of our minds. We are still actively engaged Afghanistan, where we started the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the network of terrorists that caused the worst loss of American civilian life and the first major attack on the mainland since the War of 1812 (fought in a much more ‘civil’ manner).  It is in Afghanistan that we hear stories of poverty, lack of infrastructure and depleted resources.

Jumping again (not nearly as much this time), I was sitting at the SIU Ag Alumni Association’s Du Quoin State Fair BBQ listening the evenings’ program (munching on some delicious pork BBQ – I’m partial to my pork and meat in general) as many of the SIU College of Agricultural Sciences’ faculty present on the work they’ve been doing in Afghanistan with the Illinois National Guard 1-14th Agribusiness Development Team.  First off, a huge salute to our men and women serving at home and abroad and second off – how awesome is it that there is actually an agribusiness development team as a part of our work in Afghanistan? While I knew a little bit about the 1-14th and SIU COAS’ efforts in agricultural development for Afghanistan, I was glad to sit in on the presentation.

This semester I am enrolled in vegetable production at SIU, and my professor Dr. Walters was one of our faculty who offered up his time to assist in agricultural development and research in improving farming systems in Afghanistan. Dr. Walters talked about how impoverished and primitive the systems are in Afghanistan. As a vegetable scientist, his focus was of course on vegetables and some fruits. The challenges go beyond the less than desirable growing conditions as post harvest storage is essentially impossible as there is more cold storage in Mahomet, IL than there is in Afghanistan.  Farmers use wasteful practices in irrigation that do not maximize use of water nor do these methods protect the soil and sometimes hinder plant growth. Farmers there don’t have the educational opportunities that we cherish here in the Heartland and throughout America.

This is in part why it is important to support our men and women in units like the 1-14th and faculty who work with them to improve agriculture worldwide.  Illinois Farm Bureau Youth Education teamed up with FFA chapters around our state to collect thousands of magazines to send to our troops serving us overseas.  There can be no question that rural Americans play a pivotal role in the defense of our country as well as the stabilization of the world.  Now when I was asked to write a blog for Illinois Corn, I was asked to write about the constitution in honor of Constitution Day and relations to agriculture. So far I have not drawn a clear line (clear lines are overrated anyway). I’ll be honest with all of you; I started writing about the constitution and agriculture and found myself writing more of a thesis and less of a blog. Not only is there so much to discuss, there is a lot of political philosophy and ideology involved that would bore you, the reader, to your grave. Therefore here is my abridged version of the connection.

I gave you examples of modern day agriculturalists serving our country (yes, heartwarming and cheerful). Our constitution is ripe with defense, general welfare, and being for the people. These examples highlight how stabilizing regions like Afghanistan can assist in developing sustainable agricultural systems and a middle class thus serving in our national defense. The general welfare clause is often repudiated by many of my own political philosophies as being overly exaggerated and abused. I suppose I find solace knowing that the research and data that we collect in Afghanistan can provide strong insights to improving the baselines for our own modernized agriculture. 

Clear as mud? I thought so. What I am getting at is that we in rural America have nasty habits like seeking out opportunities, helping those in need, challenging the status quo while understanding the past, present and future. When we are asked to serve, many of us answer the call. I suppose you could say that we are the few, the proud, the agriculturalists (I really like cliché sounding phrases). Our founding farmers/fathers understood that a nation needs a strong rooting in agriculture to grow and prosper, something that Maslow indirectly reinforced with his famous hierarchy of needs. Only after we satisfy our basic human needs can we be concerned with the “finer” points of life.  

We must have a vibrant and strong national agriculture in order to have a vibrant and strong nation. As we celebrate Constitution Day and progress into the harvest season, let us remember the idealic “amber waves of grain” as well as the farmers who have kept our country going and growing.

Thomas Martin
Southern IL University Ag student

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