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5 things in food and agriculture we can agree on

Tomatoes are kept tethered along an adjustable trellis in a Gilkerson Gardens greenhouse at Brookings, S.D. in July 2016. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service

It's no secret that America has vast divisions: right versus left, Fox News versus MSNBC, Red State versus Blue State, urban versus rural, agriculturalists versus non-ag consumers, mainstream agriculturists versus alternative agriculturists.

Sometimes it seems we're split into competing camps that allow no compromise or common ground. Sometimes it seems we're willing, even eager, to label people in competing camps as evil or stupid or both.

But there are a few things in agriculture that all rational people — and, yes, the overwhelming majority of people in competing camps are rational — can agree on. Here's a short list:

Food waste is bad and should be reduced.

A recent TV commercial promotes reducing food waste and "stars" an easy-to-dislike hipster doofus. But even though he's awfully annoying (hey, I'm not calling him evil or stupid), his message is sound. Food waste is wrong. Surely we all agree on that.

Food safety is vital.

There are major disagreements on what government can and should do to keep food safe. But we all agree on the importance of eating safe food.

Farm safety is vital, too.

Again, we can (and do) disagree on appropriate laws and regulations involving farm safety. But no one disagrees that farmers and farm employees should be spared from injury and death on the job.

Cruelty to animals is wrong.

Yes, I know. Americans disagree on what constitutes cruelty and what government and livestock producers should do to protect animals. But as a general principle, we all agree that causing them unnecessary pain is wrong.

Garden tomatoes are vastly better than supermarket ones.

Last fall, I received a fellowship to attend a professional conference in Pittsburgh. While there, I was among a group of journalists that toured a small urban farm specializing in home-grown tomatoes. As we were finishing up, a perplexed young student-journalist shook her head and said, "Tomatoes are tomatoes. Why not just go to the store and buy them?"

The other journalists — a diverse mix of ages, genders, skin colors and life experiences — looked at her incredulously. After a long pause, a veteran journalist said gently, "You wouldn't say that if you'd ever eaten garden tomatoes. They taste so much better." The rest of us nodded in agreement.

Why are supermarket tomatoes so bland? A high-level scientific study, which seems plausible to my layman eyes, found that flavor-enhancing genes in commercially grown tomatoes have been lost over time, at least in part because supermarket tomatoes were bred for higher yields, disease resistance, redder color and firmness.

Yes, garden tomatoes are better. I know people on the right who have memorized Fox News' entire schedule. I know people on the left who can recite the life story of every MSNBC broadcaster. But righty or lefty, Fox News fan or MSNBC enthusiast, they all say garden tomatoes are incomparably superior.

Well, it's still nearly half a year until 2018 garden tomatoes are ready here in North Dakota. The wait is long and difficult, but the results will be worth it.

In the meantime, remember that you have at least a few things in common with people you may consider evil or stupid or both. Connect on those things.

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