Can We Talk?

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Food production is a hot topic.  People are talking about it on social media, at the meat counter, over a pumpkin spiced latte at Starbucks. 


Many people have entered the conversation:  chefs, celebrities, media personalities, scientists, food activists.  One group has been slow to enter the conversation and it’s the most critical group:  farmers.


As a farmer myself I have been reluctant to jump into the fray.  But as I said in my post for Rural Housewives, if I want my son to have the option to farm when he grows up, it’s my job as his mom to do all I can to make that happen.  That means putting myself out there and talking about agriculture.


Here are five reasons why I think farmers haven’t joined the conversation:


  1. Farmers are busy.

My husband leaves home before the sun rises and doesn’t return until well after the sun goes down for a majority of the year.  Even when we aren’t planting or harvesting there are always things to do such as scouting crops for pests or disease, repairing equipment, taking soil samples and the endless supply of paperwork.  So much of what we do is time sensitive that advocating for agriculture often takes a back seat when the crops need to be harvested or the cows fed.]


2.  Farmers are humble.


Farmers don’t raise our food because they want recognition. They do it because of their deep connection to the land. They do it for the love of farming.


3.  We don’t think what we do is particularly news worthy.


So many of the tasks we do are routine that we don’t realize anyone outside of farming would be interested in them.For example, we just finished taking soil samples. We do this every year and don’t really think twice about it. Someone not connected to farming may appreciate that we pull soil samples and use the results to guide our fertilizer and lime decisions.


4.  We haven’t lost our connection to the farm, so we take for granted that everyone has that same connection.


Less than 2% of the population is directly involved in farming, and we are that 2%.  For many of us, our parents, grandparents and other generations were farmers, so we grew up with the connection.   We understand what we do and why we do it.


One thing I think we fail to realize is that many people who grew up on farms but aren’t farming now may have a connection but not an understanding of how farming has changed since they experienced it. 


For example, my dad grew up on a farm but left the farm when he was 18.  Farming has changed a lot in the last 45 years and while the goal is still to produce a crop to take to market, how we reach that goal has changed.  He and I have had some interesting conversations about farming then versus now. 


5.  Farming is who we are, not just what we do.


It’s personal.I think this is the most important reason farmers don’t join the conversation. Many people ask questions about agriculture because they don’t have that connection (see item 4). They just don’t know and are curious.


The problem comes from the trolls. I’ve spent time looking at comments on various farmer’s blogs and facebook posts and people are downright cruel and make personal attacks against farmers who are telling their story when that story doesn’t match what the troll wants to hear (or in this case, read).


It’s hard to reconcile that people want to know what we are doing but then are willing to attack us when what we are doing doesn’t fit their version of what farming is.


In spite of these 5 challenges more and more farmers are telling our stories about what we do, how we do it and why we do it. This story doesn’t have to happen over social media – it can happen with your neighbor, you mother-in-law over the dinner table or with a perfect stranger in the grocery store. It’s a conversation we all need to have.


So what do you think are reasons farmers aren’t leading conversations about how our food is grown and raised?