Happy National Ag Day 2018 to the farmers, ranchers and foresters who grow the nation’s food, fiber and fuel! This year’s Ag Day theme, Agriculture: Food for Life, spotlights the hard work American agricultural producers have done to manage risk, conserve natural resources and invest in their operations.
Across the country, USDA employees work side-by-side with America’s producers to help them feed the nation and the world. Today on National Ag Day, March 20, 2018, we recognize just a few of those many farmers.
Garfield Jarret, a Marine Corps veteran, is the owner and operator of Cool Runnings Organic Farms. Jarrett’s operation in Homestead, Florida, is diverse. He raises goats, poultry and rabbits and grows tropical fruits such as longans, starfruit and jackfruit.
“I did all the different types of therapy you can do as a veteran,” says Jarret, who obtained funding for his operation through a Microloan issued by the Farm Service Agency. “I tried them all but didn’t get the same connection as I get when I work with the land. I can live a happy and healthy life.”
Jarret's business is community oriented. He collaborates with Florida International University’s Agroecology Program to educate students. And he teaches veterans and community volunteers about agriculture.
Kerry Gawalt manages 60 Jersey cows, a five-acre market garden and an expanding compost business at Cedar Mountain Farm in Hartland, Vermont. Each Jersey cow produces about 18,000 pounds of milk annually for the award-winning Cobb Hill Cheese Company. The garden supplies a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers for their Community Supported Agriculture. The compost builds healthy, productive soils.
Gawalt and her family work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect the natural resources on their land and beyond. They use practices such as prescribed grazing, a covered manure storage system and a nutrient management plan to improve the health of their soils and protect local water quality.
Gawalt believes it’s important for farmers to work together as stewards of the land. “Talking to farmers from all over,” she says, “I realize that we share so many of the same challenges.” Gawalt serves in multiple leadership roles to support her community, including Vice President of the Windsor County Farm Bureau and Club Leader of the Hartland Cattle 4-H Club. And in 2016, Gawalt was selected as Vermont Farm Bureau’s Farm Woman of the Year.
Pictured here with his wife and two sisters, Chris Eckert is President of Eckert’s, an operation that includes a pick-your-own 600-acre farm, a 20,000-square-foot specialty foods store and 400-seat restaurant in southern Illinois. He’s the seventh generation to work for Eckert’s and finds himself and his team talking more often about weather and its potential impact on the business units.
“Weather is the most unpredictable variable we have,” says Eckert. “You can do everything you want to do and be the best farm manager in the world but that doesn’t prevent a hail storm, or a polar vortex, or a rainy weekend.”
Eckert experienced a polar vortex in 2014, which wiped out their peach crop – the biggest crop they produce at about 300 acres. Eckert credits their risk management planning and crop insurance, offered through the Risk Management Agency, for the ability to stay afloat. “Peaches are a really profitable crop for us but those one-off loss years are so economically devastating that they can cripple the operation," he says. "Having crop insurance gives us a safety net and keeps us from having to liquidate the farm."
We thank and recognize Garfield, Kerry, Chris and all producers across the country for your commitment to do right and feed everyone.
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