Tuesday's Earth Day collided with a meeting I had in my office with our new board directors and the weekly #AgChat on Twitter. While these three events would seem a bit unrelated - except for the fact that they are all related to agriculture - they were, in fact, more interconnected to me than you might think.
As an advocate for agriculture, I am certainly one of many who question how we can take Earth Day and share messages effectively about farming and our food that resonate with the part of our world that isn't closely connected to agriculture.
#AgChat tackled that question on its weekly Twitter chat, along with the overriding theme of the night - sustainability in agriculture. What is it? How can we, as agriculturists, define it? Can we define it? What are some of the ways farmers are more sustainable now? How will we look at sustainability in the future?
A lively two-hour chat ensued, proving that sustainability, even for farmers and those of us who work in agriculture, can mean different things to different people. But it also seemed apparent, at least to me, that many of us in agriculture see sustainability as a way - through production methods, environmental stewardship, sheer economics and more - to ensure the viability of the farm for generations to come.
Which brings me to the orientation for new board directors that was held at my office for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Each year, our organization holds elections for its Board and this year (as in years past), the three new directors had both similarities and differences in their backgrounds. One was a 2nd generation farmer who's dad was actually a city kid who decided to try his hand at farming. Another was a young farmer in his own right, although his family has been raising turkeys for several generations. Yet another raised turkeys along with corn and soybeans, side-by-side with his wife and their three young boys.
We asked them to talk about the "keys to their success" and each pointed to the previous generation and how they learned from the family members that came before them. It was also clear that all of their farm businesses included continual plans for utilizing technology and upgrades in equipment that allowed them to farm better. Be flexible, they said. Learn from the past but embrace what the future can offer, they said.
New directors get orientated at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association office this week.
These days in turkey production, this means learning more, for example, about LED lighting and solar power. It also means that the barns are technologically advanced to control heat and lighting and provide the perfect mix of feed and water 24-7.
Practical? Yes. Sustainable? I think so. The continuous education process of turkey farming, including the use of technology and new equipment, means turkey farmers are learning how to raise their birds even better than the previous generation. It also means they are paving the way for future generations to take over their farms.
One of my social media friends, sent out this Tweet during Tuesday's #AgChat: "My friends want "sustainable" to be emotion & feel good but it's not always practical."
That's the crux of the word, "sustainable" - our friends and neighbors might look at it emotionally and see buzz words like small and local and organic -- all of which are great things to be -- but it's not the end-all, be-all. Sustainable can also be folks like my board directors, whose turkey farms can range from big to small and everything in between, and who embrace new production methods and the latest technologies to ensure they are doing the right thing for the birds, their farms and their families, now and well into the future.
I'm not sure we'll ever have one, definitive answer to "what sustainable is", but I'm hoping I can help answer what this means to turkey farmers - on Earth Day and every day.