BY | Chris Beytes
Ray Greenstreet, owner of Greenstreet Growers in Lothian, Maryland, and president of the Maryland Agriculture Council, gave an inspiring speech at the recent induction of new members of the Maryland Agriculture Hall of Fame. With his permission, I’m excerpting parts of it here. He wrote it about Maryland, but it applies to all of us.
“As George Washington once said, ‘Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man.’ What is Maryland agriculture? It is an economic engine—a $17-billion-dollar economic engine. It is the largest industry in Maryland, employing more than 300,000 people. The products and services produced are 100% Maryland-made. Revenue from products produced in Maryland stay in Maryland. Maryland agriculture is THE green industry. Ninety-eight percent of Maryland farms are family farms. That’s amazing! How many other industries can make that claim? Of Maryland’s 6.3 million acres, more than one-third are devoted to agriculture. We are the stewards of the land and the Bay.
“Gathered here tonight are generations of Maryland farmers, watermen, growers, dairymen, landscapers, who together are improving our quality of life. And because of their hard work, Maryland is one of America’s self-sustainable states … fish and shellfish from the Chesapeake Bay, grain, corn and vegetables from our fields, fruit from our orchards, meat and dairy from our livestock. Enjoying dinner? Your meal was prepared by our friends at Michael’s 8th Avenue, using Maryland’s bounty, all donated by Maryland farmers.
“A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Israel to tour their farms and greenhouse production facilities. Landing in Tel Aviv, I was awestruck by what I saw: desert. Barren desert. Israel’s average annual rainfall is a scant 13 inches, some areas in the south get less than 1 inch. If it’s not irrigated, it’s dead. Yet Israel produces 95% of their food.
“So where do they get their water? … The city of Tel Aviv is double piped: gray water is collected, cleansed through artificial wetlands, then piped to farms, orchards and nurseries for irrigation. I was amazed. Can you imagine if we took all the gray water from Annapolis, from Baltimore, from D.C., and reused it on farms, at nurseries and greenhouses? That would reduce billions and billions of gallons of stress on our septic systems, which in turn eliminates risk of system failures, which in turn eliminates risk to our watershed and our beloved Bay.
“Israel’s agriculture is based almost entirely on science and technology, with their institutions, extension service, industry and government working together to seek solutions to problems and meet new challenges. Since the collaborative effort began, Israel’s agriculture production has increased five-fold! The possibilities for Maryland agriculture are limitless—if we all work together.
“Looking at all of you gathered here tonight I am happy to see new young faces. My sons are here tonight. Ryan is 19 and Seth is 15. Both have been employed in our family’s greenhouse business, where they learned what a hard day’s work is, how to break a sweat, operate equipment and what it takes to grow a plant—all good life lessons they’ll always use no matter what path they eventually choose.
“I heard yesterday that two-thirds of college graduates can’t find a job. The main reason given by employers? Even though they have a great education, they lack work ethic and motivation. Any young person who has had an opportunity to work on a farm learns what work ethic and motivation are all about.
“I heard a scary statistic a while ago: The average Marylander is five generations removed from farming. What does this mean? We were once all hunters, gatherers, farmers. Now we are IT networkers, administrators, electronic engineers, lawyers. We don’t think about where our food comes from. As a society, we’ve lost touch with the farm. And yet everyone living has no choice but to participate in agriculture, through the act of food consumption.
“… We as an industry need to tout what we do. It’s our job to be agriculture’s ambassadors. We must look to the next generation to use the technology they are so familiar with—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram—to tell our stories and promote our industry. That’s our responsibility, a responsibility our young generations can help us with.
“Don’t be in a hurry to leave. Please stick around, do some schmoozing and celebrate tonight’s inductees into the Maryland Agriculture Hall of Fame. And of course, after the program, enjoy some good old-fashioned apple pie and ice cream—brought to you by Maryland agriculture.” GT