Friday, March 21, 2014

Pausing to Plant a Word of Thanks

By Brenda Black

Immersed in a sea of people, I pin-balled my way through a crowded corridor headed to a luncheon. My reason for being one among the masses – to attend the 2014 US Agriculture Outlook Forum. In a hotel in Arlington, VA, situated in the heart of US history, I rubbed elbows with the world. As I dined on tasty American cuisine, my eyes were opened to just how blessed we are to live in this country and enjoy affordable food. Not because of the plate in front of me presented with flare and a high price tag. My persuasion came from table conversation.

Over chicken parmesan, crisp zucchini and linguini, I chatted with an exporter from Sri Lanka and the senior vice president of one of America's largest chicken processing companies. They were pleased with the entree, of course. By way of introductions, they soon learned they were surrounded by cattlewomen and the conversation took an amiable turn toward protein competition and consumption around the globe.

We talked cuts and taste, price and production. We bantered over flavor and variety of options. But I fell silent when the exporter began to explain the true limitation of protein in his home country. When a friend at the table asked about by-products, he looked perplexed. We thought for a moment there was a language barrier that needed bridging. She took another run at it and asked “What do you do with what's left of the chicken?”

“All that's not eaten is the feathers,” he answered soberly. One family may dine on a half-pound chicken for a week. Everything but the feathers is cut into tiny pieces and thrown into a pot of soup. If a child enjoys two bites of protein, it is a luxury.

The VP chimed in to validate the minimal consumption. His company shrink wraps product for the Sri Lankan market that defy our “super size” mentality. Packages ship to sell that have a single chicken wing. That's all some families can afford.

My lunch took on a heavenly form and I felt thankful and blessed beyond words.

We take so much for granted. Our grocery stores are brimming with ample and affordable provision. Fast food drive throughs, convenience stores, family cafes and high end fancy restaurants beckon us from small towns to big cities. From farmer's markets to popcorn at the movies, we have choices. Food is available and variety attainable. Yes, we are blessed to be able to feed our families more than one bite of meat a week...thanks to the American farmer.

Once upon a time in this country, raising food was all about survival for the immediate family. These days it is about health and nutrition, variety and abundant provision. The faithful farmers come in all sizes and grow everything from snow peas to pigs, broccoli to beef. Farmers are a passionate stock and dedicated to the bigger picture.

Farming is rooted in history and tradition, but has grown to encompass tremendous diversity in order to meet consumer preference and price points. In a move from feeding only one's family to feeding the world, farmers have become more efficient, more conscientious, more conservative, more capable than ever.

Photo courtesy of
As spring arrives this week and the grass begins to green, notice the wheat fields changing hue. Appreciate the deep furrows of fertile soil turned beneath a plow. Savor the smell of a steak on the grill. And remember what a great blessing is agriculture in America.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Flight Attendant

By Brenda Black

The airline attendant ushered the pale and trembling young woman down the aisle of the plane. At 33,000 feet in the air, she weaved her way to an empty seat just across from me, where the stewardess cooly motioned for her to take a seat. In her hands, the weary woman gripped a paper sack that matched her pasty complexion. And everything changed that moment on the plane, headed from DC to North Carolina.

While a dark-haired lady to the woman's left pressed herself into the window and never acknowledged her same-row visitor, I reached across the aisle and patted the back of the 20-something, expectant mother. She sheepishly turned her head up and glanced slightly toward me, afraid to leave that little bag of safety. She ventured, “I don't think the baby likes to fly.” Then she resumed position, shoulders rolled forward, head bent and one hand braced against the back of the seat in front of her, while the other pressed the plane's standardized equipment against her quivering lips.

For the next several minutes, I tried to soothe the fear, embarrassment and discomfort of my new charge. I tried to get her mind on other things through quiet, small talk. I rubbed her back and handed her yet another bag. She wore a spaghetti strap, next-to-nothing blouse and finished her not-so-winterized outfit with flip flops on her feet. The tattoos on her arm grew bluer black while what little pink she had rushed its way to freezing fingers and toes. I'm pretty sure the piercing in her nose echoed a metallic ring as hard as she shook from being so cold. When she began to shiver uncontrollably, I took my coat and draped it over her exposed shoulders.

Once again, she gazed upwards with gratitude beyond measure. “Thank you so much,” she weakly said. And I felt at a loss for words. All that I could do was pray for this lonely, afraid, very sick and desperate woman who looked more and more like a little girl.

I tell this story not for self edification. I tell it because that encounter opened my eyes to the human condition that seems more and more prevalent. People are desperate. Many are indifferent. A few are compassionate. Which are you?

What would you do if someone in need were placed at your elbow? Would you cling to the window, cover your nose and never offer a kind word like the woman in the window seat? Or would you offer a friendly gesture, be a knight in shining armor, an angel in disguise, a friend in deed?

This time I got it right and I lovingly reached out and offered comfort to a stranger. But a million times in my life, I've failed.

The reward for taking the time to show tenderness came from a young lady named Camie. When I exited the plane, a warmed and calmer young mother looked up and smiled and said, “Thank you for your kindness.” And everything changed that moment on the plane, headed from DC to North Carolina.