With the most wonderful time of the year approaching, I thought it might be fun to examine the role agriculture plays in celebrating the holiday season.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, Las Posadas, Diwali, Chinese New Year or another holiday, agriculture plays a role in your celebrations in unique ways.
Since I celebrate Christmas, this will be my main focus, but for those of you that may celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or Yule (celebration of the winter solstice), Las Posadas Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights), and Chinese New Year (the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar), I believe that there are some elements of my Christmas celebration that are mirrored in yours. I think that we can agree the holiday season is not only a time to celebrate family, friends and possibly religion, but also a time to celebrate food and agriculture.
One of the first things that immediately pops into my mind in the celebration of Christmas is obviously the tree. Growing evergreen trees is considered an agricultural endeavor and there are approximately 350 million Christmas trees growing on 15,000 to 20,000 Christmas tree farms in the United States (University of Illinois Extension). Almost 100,000 people are employed either full- or part-time in the Christmas tree industry and these people sold 32.8 million real Christmas trees and brought in over $1 billion in 2018 (National Christmas Tree Association). For every Christmas tree bought, anywhere from one to three seedling are planted the following spring to keep up with demand. While not every holiday has a live tree, many holidays celebrate with other symbolic and agriculturally produced goods like wooden candle holders or wrapping paper.
The next place my mind goes to for a celebration is food. I am going to lump food together and try to discuss it all because food plays such an important role in celebrations. In our case, Christmas features a large ham, mashed potatoes, vegetables of some sort, bread rolls and either pie or cookies. The statistics are a bit old, 2011, but they are the most recent I can find and I apologize. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011, 224 million turkeys were raised and 22 million made their way to the Christmas table (Delish). Along with our delicious feathered friends, 7.3 billion shrimp were devoured at 46 million different holiday parties (Delish). However, the favorite meat of the season tends to be pork, and the U.S. is the third largest producer of pork.
How many of us are celebrating the holidays in clothes? I’m truly hoping we all raised our hands or nodded our heads, but hey, you celebrate the way you like. However, as you don that ugly Christmas sweater over your blue jeans headed to a friend’s Christmas party, know that you are supporting farmers. Seventeen states produce cotton; Texas leads the way followed by Georgia and Mississippi. The annual business revenue provided by cotton is over $120 billion, which makes it America’s number one value-added crop (cotton.org). So while you’re out shopping for gifts, make sure to check that label and buy your best friend that fabulous cotton shirt.
On the subject of clothes, how about U.S. wool production? U.S. farmers produce almost 26 million pounds of wool that is made into sweaters, socks, mittens and scarves to keep us from freezing. In 2017, U.S. shorn wool production was at 26 million pounds, and this came from the 3.4 million head of sheep and lambs (AgMRC). So, for that hard-to-buy for friend on your Christmas list, look to support American sheep and lamb farmers by buying wool scarves, sweaters, mittens or other wool gifts.
Finally, and weirdly put in a category of its own, I have decided to explore maple syrup and its role in the holidays. Especially in northeast Ohio, this delicious, sticky, beautiful brown syrup makes its debut on pancakes, sticky buns, oatmeal and even in my coffee. Pretty much everyone loves maple syrup, no matter what holiday you celebrate. The U.S. makes 4.27 million gallons of maple syrup; this comes from 13.3 million tapped trees and added $147 million to the economy (National Agricultural Statistics Service).
So as we enter into the holiday season, no matter what holiday we celebrate, we need to give thanks to American farmers for not only the food that brings together friends and family, but for the gifts we exchange, and the traditions we are able to carry on. Happy Holidays!
Submitted by Christen Clemson, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau who completed her Ph.D. at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca Township.
OFBF Mission: Working together for Ohio farmers to advance agriculture and strengthen our communities.