When rural families gather to celebrate Thanksgiving Day soon, a wide variety of emotions about the past year and the coming year will be expressed by some and suppressed by others.

The Thrashers, Gibsons, and Wests will rejoice in the fact that their husbands and fathers came safely back from a year in Iraq with no physical injuries. But at many other rural tables there will be both an empty chair and empty places in the hearts of family members. Conversations will be strained and stilted. The first round of holidays are always difficult for those who mourn.

At Thanksgiving in 2004 most grain farmers were grateful for the good weather during growing and harvesting seasons. While the price of grain was not all that good due to the production being greater than the demand, they had been able to pay their bills. They were grateful.

This year’s growing season has been quite different. Much of the cornbelt experienced a drought. In much of the South hurricanes damaged crops. And with a large carry over of grain from last year, prices did not rise. So, many farm families, while still thankful for life and health, will be deeply concerned about their financial situation as they gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

At the tables of the Ryans, McCools, Smiths and others of my neighbors whose livelihoods are tied to the poultry industry, concern will be expressed about their financial future. They will worry about the avian flu and its impact not only on their flocks, but also upon their own health and that of their neighbors. They have invested heavily in houses for their flocks. They work hard caring for their birds. If their flocks are destroyed, what will the futures of their family enterprise be?

Some of these same folks have been down to the Gulf Coast on missions of mercy in the past few months. They have seen the devastation of whole towns and communities just blown away. They have helped with cleaning up. They have shared with those who have lost everything. So, as they gather for Thanksgiving they will surely express their gratitude to God that, even with a dark cloud hanging over them, he has blessed them in the past, and so they will trust their future to him.

At the Turner, Bolling and McShan tables, foresters all, while they may regret the losses of others due to the hurricanes, they will also be grateful that with it has come an expanded demand for forest products. Some may even stop to reflect upon how tragedy for some often brings blessings for others. One must quickly note that these same happy families made very significant sacrifices in the days after the hurricanes by taking time off from work to go and clean up downed trees for those who needed help–widows and the elderly. All that they had asked was a thank you. That is all that they would accept.

Another important topic at rural Thanksgiving tables will be the current raiding of the budget of the Department of Agriculture. Given the costs of the wars in Middle East, and the expenses related to hurricane damage, the federal government has made major cuts in many programs housed in Agriculture.

For many years few observers have been happy about abuses in the various commodity price support programs. It was evident that the “big guys” got the big payments, and that the payments to the “little guys” did not make a real difference in their ability to survive on the farm. Reform was needed. But it appears that “the baby may be thrown out with the bath wash.”

Realizing the vulnerability of our nation due to our dependence on foreign oil, one must consider carefully the even greater danger of dependence upon food from foreign sources, not to mention vulnerability related to purity of food products. Safe and adequate food supply needs to be a top priority of the federal government. Changes in the agricultural policies must be crafted wisely. To fail to do so will first of all impact farm families negatively, but then ultimately it will impact everyone.

Finally, I know that some rural families will devote time to read and reflect upon a Bible passage as part of their celebration of Thanksgiving. For some this will be Psalms 23, 37, 72, or 100. Others will turn to Nehemiah 8:8-12. Many will share their bounty of food with others.

As we reflect, we will note that the year has brought both joy and sorrow. We will focus on the spiritual joys that have come. We will gratefully thank God. We will express love. We will receive love. We will welcome a new son-in-law to the table. The Owens will welcome two new grandchildren. Life goes on.

Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.

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