According to some historians, the first feast of thanks took place in St. Augustine in 1565, more than 50 years before what most of us were taught was the first Thanksgiving. In St. Augustine, the Spanish settlers shared food and fellowship with the Timucuans of Florida.
Rather than the traditional sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, the menu likely featured pork, deer, mullet, oysters, beans and squash. Regardless of where the first Thanksgiving occurred, the time-honored tradition of giving thanks began as a celebration of the opportunities derived from the bounty of our land.
Today, families and loved ones will gather together to continue this tradition. The cooks of the family will prepare generations-old recipes using American meats, fruits and vegetables, as well as seafood from our coastal waters. Families will say their blessings and give thanks for all we have to be grateful for, including the land that provided the food on our table.
With this land, we are able to raise animals and grow crops that provide abundant food for our nation. America not only offers the resources to grow our own food, but also the bright minds to develop innovative technologies that allow us to grow enough food for our expanding population.
Over time, we've changed the way we produce food. The industrial revolution yielded new technologies for farming like the seed drill and horse hoe that transformed the way we grow crops. Research from American universities — including the University of Florida and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University — has also played a critical role in agricultural productivity. Technology that was born in the labs of these academic institutions enables us to use less water, improve varieties, increase yield and practice good stewardship of the resources we have.
Today, agriculture is more efficient than ever, producing more food and relying on fewer natural resources. In 1960, the 17 largest crops grown in America totaled 252 million tons of production. Decades later, America produces 700 million tons on 10 million fewer acres. As society becomes increasingly urbanized, Americans lose sense of where their food comes from. Thanksgiving is an annual reminder to be thankful for agriculture among our many blessings, including freedom, tolerance and opportunity.
Today, when you join friends and family to share a Thanksgiving meal, celebrate the bounty of our land as the Spanish settlers, Timucuans of Florida, Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians once did. Nearly four centuries later, Americans still have much to be thankful for.
Adam Putnam is Florida's Agriculture and Consumer Services commissioner.