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Why I’m Thankful for Agriculture Experts

Thanksgiving is almost here and I’ll be making pies and mashed potatoes again this year. We may use some of the berries I picked for the pies but I certainly won’t be using the potato crop I grew in my garden.

Why? Because my yields were too low. I produced two tiny potatoes. Not enough to feed one person, much less a family.

To give you a sense of just how small these two potatoes were, I photographed one next to my car keys:

a potato that is about half the size of a car key
One of the two tiny potatoes I grew this year.

What did I do wrong? I did a number of things, by choice, that millions of small-scale farmers around the world do by necessity.

For starters, I used seeds I’d saved from the previous year and stored under questionable conditions. Then I planted them late, after the Spring rains had gone and the hot days of Summer were already upon us. Finally, I elected to depend entirely on rainfall for irrigation.

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In Africa, many farmers plant late because they can’t get seeds in time or because they are sick. They depend on rainfall for irrigation because there is no better source of water.

If I had been depending on my potatoes to feed anyone, that person would be going hungry right now.

Luckily, my food security doesn’t depend on the food I grow. It depends on the incomes my husband and I earn at the University of Maryland and Lutheran World Relief. Despite my agricultural ineptitude, our Thanksgiving dinner won’t suffer.

Interestingly enough, the type of institutions we work for — a university and an aid agency — are the very type of organizations that deploy experts to help subsistence farmers around the world battle hunger.

Universities, especially land-grant institutions, helped improve agriculture production in the United States through research and extension. Today, many are working to do the same overseas through the USAID Feed the Future innovation labs.

two men talking in a vineyard
An agronomist in Tanzania talks to a local farmer about best farming practices.

Lutheran World Relief is also partnering with Feed the Future and many others to help get small-scale farmers the empowerment, information and tools they need to be more successful than I.

This holiday season, my family is thankful it doesn’t depend on my farming skills in order to eat. But in recognition of the many families who do depend on agriculture, and who don’t have access to the advantages I chose to ignore, we’ll also be giving LWR Gifts for Christmas.

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