OPINION – Where our food originates

Americans owe a great amount of gratitude and thanks to our food industry from the grassroots level of production of the raw foods, the processing and packaging, the distribution, and finally the grocery shelves at the local King Soopers, Safeway/ Albertsons, and other marketplaces.

Let’s start at the beginning. Chicken is the most widely eaten meat product and millions of chickens are processed daily for our eating enjoyment. A second hen product is of course eggs that are a great source of protein and consumed by the millions every day.

Chickens are fed a variety of grain products such as soybeans, wheat, and corn making a mixture of nutritious enriched foods. Most chickens are mass produced in cages, never seeing the light of day.

Pork comes from pigs that are fattened on a similar diet to chickens but devour a greater amount of corn. There are massive pig/hog farms located throughout America with a large concentration of these farms in the eastern coastal states and southern based massive hog farms. These farms offer a challenge in zoning, water, and waste disposal challenges. Neighbors don’t like to live downwind from a hog farm. There are some hog farms in Eastern Colorado.

Pork has been less expensive than beef, but grain prices have had recent massive increases in prices. Soybeans are hitting $16 a bushel, a price never seen before. Corn is pushing over $7 a bushel, from a low of $3.00. Wheat is rising close to $7, an ingredient in bread, cereal, and animal feed. This is an excellent market for our American agricultural products. Expect sharp increase in bacon and pork chops, and probably effecting the price of pepperoni on pizzas.

Decades ago, while an exchange journalist to the Soviet Union, I had very fatty ham for breakfast. I inquired about the poor quality of the pork and was told that, “In America you fatten your pigs on corn, here in Russia we fatten our pigs on garbage.” 

Beef prices are soaring on all cuts of beef with the price of corn and soybeans hitting record heights. During my journalism exchange experience, I visited a dairy where they had a shortage of hay and were feeding the milk cows soybeans.

There are several types of cattle; grass fed animals are raised usually without any grains, steroids or additives to their diets and therefore much leaner meat. Beyond the grass era, yearling heifers and steers are purchased by feed lots and fed a rich diet of corn, soybeans, hay, and are aged and fattened to become choice and prime roasts and steaks. Greeley is the major feed lot capital in Colorado with a JBS processing plant that provides a large portion of Colorado prime beef.

A rack of lamb is still a prized delicacy at gourmet restaurants and succulent in flavor and tenderness. Mutton comes from sheep and lamb chops and are the favorite cut coming from the sheep industry.

My lifelong friend Tom Maneotis in Craig would roast an entire lamb over an open fire spit, basting and cooking the lamb for hours. It was a great delicacy for Greek weddings and major community events. For decades Craig, my hometown, was the nation’s largest wool shipping town in America. A large wool shed housed tons of sheared wool in huge sacks that were shipped out of Craig on the historic Moffat railroad to woolen mills across America. This gave the sheep ranchers a dual product for their livestock profitability. I loved those “Pendleton” wool shirts worn on many cold days.

Greek immigrants like the Harry Koulis family now includes retired Colorado Supreme Court Justice Becky “Love” Kourlis. The Governors’ daughter married into one of the very well-known and respected Greek ranching families. The good news for the sheep industry is that they purchased early cheap mountain lands to graze their animals in the summer and sage brush summer pasture on the great prairies leading into Utah in the winter months. While the wool business dwindled, the ranchland business has boomed and enhanced ranch values.

I can remember driving to Denver through the Vail Valley when there was only a winding creek and vacant meadows filled with wildflowers.

The residents who still live on ranches and farms work 24/7 caring for livestock and suffering the slings and arrows of Wall Street and the world economy ups and downs of supply and demand. These market swings dictate the market price of agricultural products. Today, prices are high, but on many occasions the prices have dropped dramatically, and these hearty hard-working families take a financial beating, some forced to sell their farms and ranches depending upon their bank support or lack of it. There is more and more corporate farming taking place across America as private ownership decreases.

Bottom line, food doesn’t just appear on the grocery shelves from the back room. Bless the trucking industry and drivers who have fought through C0VID-19 to deliver our precious food. In the beginning it starts with tilling the soil, planting the seeds, breeding the animals, and nurturing the crops and animals to feed a hungry nation, and now even the world markets.

The highest quality food produced anywhere in the world is here in the United States and by our Colorado farmers and ranchers. God Bless Agriculture and the men, women, and children who work in the fields and barns to keep our tables abundant with food.