By living in an urban setting and rarely encountering Manatee County's historic roots, one would never witness the powerful contributions that agriculture brings to our little corner of the country.
Today, despite the sprawling residential and commercial development gobbling up farm and ranch land out east, some 313,485 acres remain in agricultural production. That translates into 794 farms at an average of 284 acres.
Most impressive, though, are the economic statistics: Crop production accounts for $183.6 million in exports with some 30,000 jobs connected to agriculture and natural resources. Agriculture's overall economic impact on the county is estimated at $646 million.
Manatee County's annual Farm City Week, under way now, highlights the region's agricultural roots and showcases its economic prowess with a variety of events. The Manatee County Extension Service celebrates the week so residents can appreciate all that agriculture means to our community -- as well we should.
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This year, the focus is on the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act of 1862, which established the land-grant university system. Subsequent federal legislation created cooperative extension services, which further the nation's agricultural education efforts.
At Wednesday's Agricultural Hall of Fame Luncheon, the late Callon Carnelius Keen Sr. will be enshrined for his work with citrus and irrigation and his tenure on numerous agricultural organizations and committees in Manatee County. A member of a pioneer farm family, Keen grew up in Keentown (Duette) and settled in Parrish. Saturday's Agricultural Farm Tour is another event highlight, with stops this year in Dakin Dairy, Char-o-Lot Ranch, Duette Preserve, Gary Reeder's Tomato Farm, and Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery.
Manatee County's celebration coincides with the national event, launched in 1955 and sponsored by the National Farm-City Council to build interdependence between rural and urban Americans. Since education is the week's focus, check out these grains of knowledge as provided by the council in one of the organization's quizzes:
n How many honeybees does it take to produce a tablespoon of honey? Twelve, after collecting nectar from 2,000 flowers.
n What crop is grown in all 50 states? Potatoes! The average American consumes 140 pounds of spuds annually. Yes, it's our favorite vegetable.
n How many turkeys do Americans eat at Thanksgiving? Would you believe 45 million, incredibly one for every seven people.
Since Bradenton is home to Tropicana, whose juice is sold around the world, here's another factoid: Manatee County ranks 10th in the Sunshine State for citrus acreage with some 24,000 acres. That translates into more than 3.1 million trees.
Overall, Manatee stands at seventh among the state's 67 counties for agricultural sales. Next to tourism, agriculture is our economic lifeblood. Farmers' markets are a good way to salute our growers for their contributions to our county.
Farm City Week information: 941-722-4524.