By Deb Patterson
LEESBURG — The annual Tom Farms Appreciation Dinner featured keynote speaker David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, U.S. Sen. Todd Young and Erin Fitzgarold, chief executive officer of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. Ambassador Kip Tom also spoke a few words.
Tom, who has worked with Beasley and will continue working with him in the future, introduced the former South Carolina governor. Tom stated Beasley gives of his time “making sure people are fed. He doesn’t go to bed thinking about all the people he has fed. He thinks about the one person he didn’t feed … He’s the person who goes in when the fire is going on. He goes in and delivers a charge.” Beasley was also the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
Beasley who noted it was refreshing to get off a plane with no bullets being fired or missiles being seen, enjoyed driving to Leesburg on country roads. While he didn’t see any cotton or “tobacca” it was like being in South Carolina.
“You’re the backbone of America,” Beasley told the approximately 200 people attending. “You’re the reason we’re the greatest nation on the face of this planet … this is the heartland.” He stated 200 years ago 94-95% on the planet were in extreme poverty. Today it is less than 10 percent because of systems being built around the world and wealth is being shared more than any time in the world’s history. But, he said, “try telling that to the 10 percent we have not reached yet.”
He elaborated on what Tom had noted in the introduction. It came during an interview with Scott Pelley for 60 minutes after being in Yemen. “I have seen more suffering and dying in a week than you see combined in a lifetime,” Beasley stated. Pelley was moved by the stories Beasley relayed and was so moved by the World Food Program, he stated Beasley had the greatest job on earth saving lives and helping people. But Beasley’s response was “I don’t go to bed thinking about the children we saved. I go to bed weeping over children we couldn’t save. Scott, when we don’t have enough money or access we have to choose which children eat or don’t eat. Which children live. Which children die. How would you like that job? We have to think about it every day.”
The Nobel Peace Prize winner stated he doesn’t “regret taking the job one bit. It is the most fulfilling job in my life.”
Referring to an article 1 ½ months ago that said the United States was spending $60 million a week on shelters along the border. “All I need is $1 to $2 per week for an ag resilience program to give self-sufficiency and independence.” He said in Syria he can feed a Syrian on 50 cents.
“The world is struggling right now. People want to tear this country down. I see more death, more suffering, more war, more conflict than anybody on this planet. I still put this country above and beyond any other nation on the face of this nation. We’re all Americans and I’m proud to be an American … stand strong. We don’t need to stand in hatred or bitterness, condemnation. Stand in love, compassion with firmness and strength and don’t apologize for it. That is what makes this nation so great.”
Young and Fitzgarold also offered words of encouragement.
Young, who had spent the day visiting small and large businesses, stated they should “never count America down and out” and encouraged the public not to get down, but to remain optimistic. “The character of this country has not changed.” He noted there are some current problems – inflation, insecure southern borders, indoctrination, a cancel culture. “This is a temporary aberration. This is not who we are. America will soon come back, I guarantee you this. I encourage everyone to remember the best resources as a country are the people … unleash those God-given talents every man, woman and child possess and pass on a freer more secure nation. One filled with more opportunity for our children and grandchildren … leave a country better than we found it. That’s our charge. You’re doing your part as good neighbors, good family members providing a productive service.”
Fitzgarold, who is said to have roots in Warsaw, spoke about how communities looking for solutions during COVID came together. “We didn’t have a food crisis because of farmers and ag suppliers came together like never before.” She believes the farmers have every bit of the solution on how to weather the next storm. “We have the solutions under our feet … grow things and make green things … Farmers have done this before, do it again. Invest and invent … invest in our farms, farmers and ranchers,” she stated.
The annual appreciation event was held Thursday, Aug. 19, with approximately 200 people attending. Members of Warsaw and Wawasee FFA chapters assisted with the evening events.