As I think about our country’s 245th birthday, I thank God for all those who have stepped up to defend our nation, for those who have fought for change and for those who bring communities together to support each other in times of crisis. Our country was built on a spirit of self-sacrifice, ingenuity and hard work with everyone doing their part. Over the past 16 months, Americans have shown that spirit is still strong. We gave up time with family to keep each other safe. We found ways to serve and connect with our communities in spite of the distance. Others dedicated resources and expertise to create safe and effective vaccines. And as our neighbors were struggling, we came together to make sure everyone had the food they needed. At the time of our first census in 1790, 95% of Americans lived in rural communities, and most families had to grow their own food. Today, less than 20% of Americans live in rural communities and only 1% are farmers and ranchers. At the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in 2014, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke about freedom. He noted that because 1% of the population chooses to farm, the other 99% are free to pursue their passion. Everywhere I go, as I travel around our country, I speak with farmers and ranchers who take great pride in their life’s work. We enjoy farming because this work is more than a job. It’s a calling. We enjoy rising early, getting our hands dirty and putting in a full day’s work. We take great pride in caring for our land and animals. And we recognize that through all our country’s good times and bad times, it’s our duty to make sure Americans have the food, fuel and fiber we need to help keep our country strong. As we gather around picnic tables, pools, and grills this weekend to celebrate our nation’s birth, we will once again enjoy a delicious meal produced by America’s farmers and ranchers. Our economists at the American Farm Bureau crunched the numbers – with the help of some Farm Bureau price checkers around the country – and found that the average cookout basket for 10 people will cost $59.50. The price of your July 4th cookout is down 1% from last year but is still an 8% increase from 2019. This fully loaded basket comes with ground beef, pork chops, chicken breasts, potato salad, chips, beans, cheese, hamburger buns, strawberries, lemonade, and, of course dessert, chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream. Even with the slight decrease in cost as the market continues to adjust from the pandemic, farmers see slim margins on the food dollar. U.S. farmers and ranchers get about 14 cents of every dollar consumers spend on food, which adds up to around $8.33 from the summer cookout basket. While farming is more than a job, that doesn’t mean we don’t worry about finances. We have families to support and a farm we want to leave in better shape for our children. It is easy to take the food in the grocery store for granted, but when shelves were empty at the beginning of the pandemic, Americans became more concerned about where their food would come from and whether there would be enough. Of course, farmers and ranchers were #StillFarming like we do every day. We worked with our partners in the food supply chain to restock shelves, fill food banks and made sure Americans knew we were still on the job. Part of that job is ensuring we have a stable and secure domestic food supply, so we don’t have to rely on other countries for our food. The increased public interest in our food supply brings new opportunities to highlight not only the commitment of farmers, but also the fact that food production is a matter of national security. In times of crisis, like the onset of a global pandemic, we all want to be sure that our families will be fed, and America’s farmers are doing just that. So as you gather together with family, friends and neighbors this weekend for a barbeque, a parade or a day on the water, know that America’s farmers and ranchers are proud to supply the food in your coolers and picnic baskets and we are ever-thankful for the liberty we’ll all be celebrating.
Zippy Duvall President Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Photo credit:  AFBF photo/Morgan Walker