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For three years now, the Peoria County Farm Bureau has sponsored a Farmers Share of the Food Dollar Breakfast. The fourth annual breakfast takes place March 13 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Radnor Road.

Farmers-with some help from the Princeville Lions Club, Raber's Packing, and Prairie Farms-will prepare breakfast, and consumers will pay the cost of the "farm" value of the breakfast. Last year, the cost of the breakfast was 45 cents. The menu includes pancakes, sausage, eggs, orange juice, and milk. Although the price of the breakfast hasn't been calculated as of this writing, Midwest farmers are receiving a slightly higher price for wheat, corn, and hogs this year. On the other side of the equation, dairy farmers have been receiving less for their milk, and orange prices have lessened significantly to the dismay of Florida citrus farmers. Give or take a dime from the 45-cent price of last year, it will get you a good breakfast.

One of the purposes of the breakfast is to educate. Less than 2 percent of today's U.S. population actually lives on a farm. At the breakfast, there will be many opportunities to learn about Midwest agriculture. For instance, did you know a dairy cow produces an average of eight gallons of milk each day, or that a chicken lays an average of 275 eggs per year?

The breakfast takes place March 13 because March 14 through March 21 is National Agriculture Week. The Illinois Farm Bureau is highlighting the event with a 1950s flashback. Let's compare food fads of 1954 to 2004.

The first TV dinner was invented in 1954, thanks to advancements in farm animal genetics. Enjoying the ability to finally mass-produce poultry, the Swanson Company raised too many turkeys for Thanksgiving and had to do something with the overflow. As a result, the first meal was frozen, and Americans started consuming convenience foods. Today, thousands of ready-to-serve foods line our grocery shelves.

The farmer's ability to produce more food not only gives food companies the luxury to focus on convenience, but also maintains affordability for the general public. In 1954, most Americans spent 20 percent of their income on food. On average, modern-day Americans spend only 10 percent of their income to fill their pantries.

If slashing food budgets in half weren't enough, the 10 percent spent in 2004 includes meals at restaurants, a treat seldom enjoyed five decades ago. In 1954, there was only one McDonalds in the United States. The majority of the restaurants were diners that served car-crazy travelers. Today, Americans savor four meals a week at eating establishments, and we don't have to be on the road to justify a dinner out.

Of course it wouldn't be a true flashback without mentioning cars. In 1954, the average cost of a new car was $1,950 (49 percent of income), and a gallon of gas would set you back 21 cents. Today, the average car price is $20,575 (86 percent of income), and the cost of gas, well, it depends on the day. IBI

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