Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Life is not all about “me.” Life is about serving others, not ourselves, and agriculture has a unique way of teaching this key value.
An attitude of service always seems to be a bit more prevalent in rural agricultural areas (at least to me). The act of caring for the soil, tending to animals and producing products for others on the farm has a way of weaving itself into your moral code and instilling a willingness to serve others.
My wife and I are already trying to use lessons on the farm to teach our young children about the value of service to others. With this in mind, I tried to involve both of our children in the Operation Evergreen program this year. Each year on Veteran’s Day, veterans come out to the Christmas tree farm and select trees that will be sent to troops overseas with the hope of providing a bit of holiday cheer so far from home. It combines two important holidays that highlight the value and importance of an attitude of service.
Christmas trees from around the state are brought to the Ohio Department of Agriculture where they are inspected, baled and boxed for shipping to Kuwait where U.S. troops are stationed. I try to go help at this event each year, but more often than not, there are so many helpers that there is not much left to do. Many Christmas tree growers give up their time to serve others who are serving us all — what a lesson in service!
This year, 110 trees received a phytosanitary certificate for international shipment and will be delivered to troops by UPS. In addition to the trees, decorations were donated by local schools, churches and veterans’ groups so military units receiving the trees will have all that is needed to celebrate the holidays. Operation Evergreen is sponsored by the Ohio Christmas Tree Association and has delivered Christmas trees to troops stationed overseas since 1995.
I took my three-year-old son with me this year to the tree inspection/loading site at the Ohio Department of Agriculture so he could “help” and learn about serving others. I was a very proud father as he helped carry trees and boxes with great zeal. I could not help but grin as numerous others at the event complimented his hard work and cheerful attitude.
As the boxes of trees were filled with handmade ornaments from elementary schools and community groups from around Ohio, my son gazed in wonder at all of the Christmas cheer that he was helping to provide for others. I beamed.
“Daddy, which one of these goes in my room?” he asked.
As it turns out, my son thought that most, if not all, of the 100 Operation Evergreen Christmas trees were destined for our house. After I again explained that the Christmas trees were for service men and women, and not for us, he seemed to be a less enthusiastic assistant. Oh well, I thought, back to the fatherly drawing board on this one.
Sometimes it seems that an attitude of service to others is all too rare in today’s society. Worldly wisdom suggests that it is much more important to focus on the needs of ourselves. One only has to turn on the television, read a newspaper or surf the Web to find countless examples of the problems people get themselves into when they are focused on serving themselves and not others.
I am fortunate in my job, though, to see a very different side of society as I cover the happenings of Ohio agriculture. I get to talk with farmers who put family, farm, church, neighbors and God above their own personal advantage. I write about families who have generations of service to our country in the military. I spend time with the people who dedicate their lives to producing the food the world needs.
Needless to say, I was a little disappointed after my three-year-old son revealed his selfish motives for helping at the Operation Evergreen event. We had just left and were walking through the Department of Agriculture parking lot, when my son told me he was hungry and pulled a mangled chunk of chocolate chip granola bar from his coat pocket. It had pocket lint, some straw and a few pine needles stuck to it. He went to take a bite, but before he did, he asked if I wanted some. I politely declined with a grin. Maybe we’re on the right track after all.