There’s an old saying that goes something like this: Sometimes you must look back on where you’ve been to know where you’re going. Being an ardent student of history, I believe it definitely has its place in our society today.
Whenever I take a road trip across Kansas or some other destination across our great land, I often stop along the way to read historical markers. They include details about battles, pestilence and devastation, as well as discovery, success and progress.
When Mom and Dad were alive, we sometimes visited cemeteries in rural Kansas and Missouri to pay homage to relatives and friends. Below the headstones rested the remains of men in our family who spent their lives planting and harvesting behind sweating teams of horses, butchering hogs on bitterly cold days and teaching new sons about the soil.
Also, down there were the remains of women who collected eggs, washed clothes by hand, cooked skillets full of fried chicken and managed to raise and nurture a family under sometimes nearly impossible conditions.
They are the ones who wove the fabric that serves as the yardstick for our new and dynamic future. What happened with these early pioneers has a direct bearing on our present successes and failures.
One such winning story revolves around the strides agriculture and its people have made in the interests of conservation. Not everything that has happened in conservation can be limited to the last 20 or 30 years. Many of the innovations in conservation began taking shape in the years after the Dirty ‘30s, nearly 90 years ago.
Thousands of shelterbelts were planted in Kansas and other Great Plains states. After years of droughts and rain finally began falling again, ponds dotted the landscape holding this precious resource. Landowners learned to make the water walk and not run, conserving this water for livestock and sometimes for thirsty crops.
Terraces snaked their way across thousands of miles of farmland holding soil and water in place where it belonged. Soil stopping strip cropping created patterns and reduced wind erosion.
Slowly but surely, conservation measures continued to slow the soil erosion gorilla that had stomped across the High Plains, leaving in its wake gullies the size of automobiles, drifts of soil as high as fence posts, withered lifeless wheat and corn and starving livestock on barren pastures.
Yes, with knowledge, education, patience, understanding and hard work and Mother Nature’s ability to heal herself, the rich, fertile land recovered. Throughout this renaissance of the land, farmers and ranchers learned that stewardship of the soil, water and other resources is in the best interest of us all.
Without question, agriculture has yet to receive credit for what it has done to protect and to enhance the landscape and for its willingness to change and improve the few mistakes it has made.
It is important for all of us to understand what has happened in the past so we can place present events and future needs in their proper perspectives. To avoid doing so will blind us to involvement and participation in much larger efforts extending throughout a long span of time.
Incidentally, a new, modern twist may be nothing more than an old theme or something coming around after having gone around. After all, human history is comprised of human ideas. And incidentally, nearly all ideas are timeless, just waiting to be dusted off, reshaped and used again.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.