Production Blog

We Need to Clean Up Our Act

The road home should be gloriously free of litter, but sadly, farmers are often forced to clean up when others discard. As Earth Day turns 50, it reminds us to be good stewards. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Nothing like a 50-year anniversary to mark a day you remember well to cause a head shake about the passage of time. But here we are, 50 years from the first Earth Day and I am shaking my head that we still haven't cleaned up our act.

Today I can look out from my office window and see the latest installment of cans and take-out wrappings deposited overnight. We seem to be just the right distance out of town for those who stop at Casey's General Store to finish off slices of pizza and 12 ounces of a favorite beverage.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir. Farmers are often on the wrong end of this slob-like behavior. Last week I saw a sofa and television at an isolated bin site. Just down the road was a broken recliner.

Several years ago, I was doing a photo shoot of the head stones in a historic cemetery and stumbled upon a pile of mattresses. I confess that I got a case of the nervous giggles thinking if I just had the box springs, it might be a more comfortable final resting place.

Sadly, it is just too depressing to not look for a hunk of humor in these situations.

The first Earth Day was founded by Gaylord Nelson as a way to get the nation to focus on the environment. Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, reportedly witnessed a massive oil spill in California in 1969 and was horrified by the residual scars. This was his way of doing something about that disaster and eventually he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom award for his efforts.

The day is now a global celebration. The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. I'm not dismissing the importance of that cause, but I have personally always thought of Earth Day as more about pollution and local activism.

Perhaps it is because our 4-H Club responded to the original cry for a national environmental teachable moment by performing a county Share-the-Fun skit. Think farm kids doing show choir. We sang and danced by combining Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Our Land" with a "Don't be a Litterbug" theme. Don't even bother commenting on Guthrie's political leanings and the broader meaning behind his song -- we were kids bent on warning the world against discarding cigarette butts and candy wrappers. Plastic t-shirt bags and aluminum cans were insults yet to come.

I might have forgotten about those decades ago memories had Katie Pratt, Illinois farmer and Progressive Farmer blogger, not written about her youthful efforts to clean up the planet and how it broadened her thoughts to do a better job telling the story of agriculture. Read that message here:…

These past two months of sticking closer to home during COVID-19 restrictions have brought new realities to many lives. I know it has caused me to slow down a bit and go back to reinstitute some stretch and make-do habits taught by my depression-era parents and grandparents. I'll admit the future right now seems more than a little murky.

Still, even in the worst and hardest of times the philosophy of caring about the world around us and respecting the space of others seems so basic.

This Earth Day, I'll go out and pick up trash along the roadways -- maybe not quite as exuberantly as I did 50 years ago, but amazingly, the question of why it is so darn hard to be considerate remains the same.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN



To comment, please Log In or Join our Community .