Rick Ebert, President, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau

We take a lot for granted these days.

Even those of us who work day in day out growing crops and caring for animals, tend to take the food in the refrigerator, on our canning shelves or at the grocery store for granted.

Sure, we “aggies” know the amount of work it takes to grow food… but when was the last time you actually thought about the multiple layers and complex facets of the modern food chain?

Beyond the sales rep dropping off seed corn and the milk truck driving away with a full load, I don’t often put much thought into the journey of my dinner.

A different perspective

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a friend’s social media post that included a link to a YouTube video on making a chicken sandwich. It seemed simple enough, but I was intrigued by the title of the video: “How to Make a $1,500 Sandwich in Only 6 Months.”

In a little less than four minutes, we watch the journey of a 20-something young man acquire, grow, harvest, process and prepare the ingredients for his sandwich… all from scratch.

The video was linked to a radio interview with this young man, where I was able to learn more details about the project.

The $1,500 price tag he puts on the sandwich included $500 in expenses to prepare and plant the garden, and to pay for air travel, a boat rental (to get ocean water that he would boil down for salt) and a chicken. He then calculated his labor costs, which he said were about 140 hours, and multiplied that by the federal minimum wage of $7.25… resulting in approximately $1,000.

So far, his biggest mistake was buying the chicken for more than twice its market value. But I’ll let that pass.

The underlying message

This young man’s social media video experiment of growing vegetables in his garden, milling flour and making cheese for his sandwich gives me hope. Here is an inquisitive millennial in the Wild, Wild West of social media digging deep into questions about farming and food… and farmers were not vilified. Modern practices were not bashed. Technology wasn’t discussed.

The implied conversation he is having with viewers is about food, time, work and cost.

And it’s powerful.

His ultimate lesson – the efficiencies and conveniences of modern agriculture are extremely beneficial and valuable – was never addressed. But yet, that message rings loud and clear in both the title and in his reaction to the taste of his expensive sandwich in the final seconds of the video.

And what impresses me most is that this guy is not a farmer. He’s got no skin in the game. He’s not emotionally or financially invested in the economics of agriculture. But his approach, outlook and positivity strike a chord with viewers, which I think is worth noting and emulating.

I often find myself enthusiastically describing the practices I use on my farm. And, like I mentioned earlier, sometimes I find myself on the defensive – even if I don’t need to be.

Lately, I’ve noticed the tone on social media about food and farmers shifting in a positive direction; and the editorial pages of mega-newspapers are actually embracing modern agriculture and technologies.

Food brings people together

Holidays in my house center around the kitchen table. At our last Thanksgiving, we served 35 people. And I can’t help but mention the 25 pies my wife, Diane, had on display throughout the day waiting for their turn in the eating ritual.

And Christmas will find the same number of people taunted by about 200 dozen cookies to follow the ham, turkey, potatoes, beets and on and on and on.

Food has long served as a mechanism to bring people together. And despite the divisive intentions of some activists, I am still optimistic that conversations about food will keep farmers and consumers connected.

Modern agriculture can often be difficult to understand, let alone explain. But stories like the one told in this video don’t focus on farm practices, rather they imply where society would be without farmers and today’s food chain.

As our family gathers around the Christmas table, I am thankful for the men and women who work in every aspect of agriculture. I’m already impressed with the time Diane puts into our holiday feast, but I can’t imagine how long it would take without my fellow farmers and today’s food chain.