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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Woodworking and Food Making

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

There are ten national holidays, although the government doesn't mandate which holidays a state must celebrate… only those that are deemed holidays for government workers. There are quite a few more that most of us would probably think are national holidays, since many businesses are either closed on those days or attempting to capitalize on sales opportunities. We celebrate and honor religious events, presidents, labor, our veterans, our founding as a country, mothers and fathers, the first day of each new year, and more. By my count, some sixteen or more "big" holidays and a myriad of "not so big" ones.

Glaringly missing from the list is any national tribute to a foundational group whose utter importance is, I'm afraid, sometimes forgotten. The people who feed us.

The United States, and to a large extent Canada, was founded on an agrarian societal precept… and we people of North America are likely still the world's most prolific and dependable suppliers of food. But officially a nation changes from an agrarian society to an industrial society when less than fifty percent of the population is involved in agricultural production… a sorry measurement that ignores or discourages the productivity gains that are the otherwise cherished hallmark of every other private business venture. Because our technology and expertise now allows a single farmer to cultivate and harvest thousands of acres, the number of people involved has declined. Production though, has never been higher.

For me there is an even more compelling reason to celebrate the farmer. He or she, today, represents the hardiness, self-reliance, and independence on which dreams are built and legends prosper. The farmer is the quintessential "jack of all trades."

Figure 13 - Today's farmer is a tech-savy, multi-talented,
multi-tasking, agri-business professional.

Farmers know agriculture. Many are college-educated agronomists. But a farmer is also, by necessity, a mechanic, a weather prognosticator, a chemist, a futures trader, a technology maven, and a builder. If you close you eyes and picture a farmer, what do you see? If you see coveralls, a straw hat, and an old guy chewing on a piece of straw, you are about 50 years behind the times. If you are familiar with today's farmer, you will more likely see khakis, a baseball cap (bill forward, thank you), and a smart phone or tablet. One thing hasn't changed, however… farmers still do a little bit of everything, and they generally do it all well.

Woodworking is a perfect example. Most farmers start working wood as builders… barns, houses, fences, workbenches… and then move to more domestic endeavors… tables, chairs, chests, and toys for their kids. A farmer's workshop looks a lot like yours but there are many more tools… welding machines next to table saws, metal shears next to band saws, air compressors that can inflate a ten foot diameter tractor tire and that can drive a delicate 23 gauge pin into a piece of handmade trim. If there existed such a statistic, among vocations, farmers would likely boast the largest percentage of woodworkers.

As fall approaches and farmers tend to their harvest, it is right that we woodworkers salute our brethren in the fields and farms and wish you the very best. Soon you will be done feeding us for yet another year and you will be back in your shop, working with wood, making beautiful, useful things. Thank you. You deserve a national holiday.

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