Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” – Dwight D Eisenhower
I just love that quote from President Eisenhower, and I agree! Farming does look pretty easy when you are an “armchair farmer”. We live in a country where less than 2 percent of our population works in production agriculture. This has created a disconnect for most consumers. For most of us, a simple trip to the grocery store provides us with everything we need. Most of us have no reason or need to question our abundant, affordable and safe food supply.
However, this disconnect is having repercussions. For some consumers, agriculture has turned into a negative. They think farmers and ranchers are hiding from the consumers for various reasons. They think we do horrible things to our land and animals just to get rich. And instead of seeking farmers and ranchers out, to learn from us, or ask us questions – they just accuse, attack and harass us.
I do my best to “open my barn door”, that is I attempt to let my friends know, if they have questions about agriculture I am here for them. I offer tours of my Ranch, introductions to other farmers and ranchers, I’ll even find you (what I consider) relevant and good research about an ag topic. I absolutely love it when I have friends that take advantage of my resources.
My outreach becomes a problem for me, at times. Agriculture is more than a passion for me. It’s my life. I eat, breathe, sleep and live ag. The best way I can explain it to people is it is like a very devout religion. My family has been agriculture for as long as I can trace it back (I made it back to the 1500’s). I have always lived on a ranch. I have always worked in production ag. My formal education is in agriculture. My first memories are of agriculture. I will probably die on a ranch. To say ag is personal to me, is a slight understatement.
When I hear someone say “we should have our farmers backs” I usually love it! But more and more this sentiment comes from “armchair farmers” – people whose ag knowledge came from books, movies and youtube videos. And while I appreciate the sentiment, these people often have no clue what they are talking about. To them, ag is simple. Ag is black and white, good guy versus bad. They’ve never farmed, ranched or really ever spoken to a commercial farmer or rancher.
Often these armchair farmers insinuate real farmers and ranchers are dumb. That farmers and ranchers need urban people to “have our backs” simply because they think stereotypes from the media are true – that we are “simple folk” Yes, there are those of us (farmers and ranchers) that are not worldly or tech savvy, but I guarantee if you sit down and ask them about their crops or animals they can teach you more than any TV show or article. My Dad is the perfect example of that. He can’t really operate a computer, he’s been out of the country once, he didn’t go to college, but that man has a beautiful, healthy, productive, happy cow herd and would blow any non-aggie’s mind with his knowledge.
These armchair farmers tend to discredit my opinion (an opinion of a real rancher that produces the food you buy) because I don’t say what they think I should. I don’t believe organic is our savior (all type of ag has its place), I don’t believe Monsanto is the devil out to destroy me, I don’t believe “modern ag” is evil. Having an armchair farmer “educate” me about my industry is like having someone not of my religion educate me about how I should practice my faith.
I’m all about different opinions. I’ve learned a lot from people who don’t agree with me. It’s actually one of my favorite methods to learn – hell I went to law school (I dropped out – but it was my choice – I didn’t flunk out!)! Everyone is entitled to an opinion, which is what makes this country great. But at some point I have to draw a line, for my sanity. When a city person starts talking at me, “educating” me about agriculture, lecturing me on how I should run my ranch – I shut down and walk away. I’m not going to apologize for that. It’s one thing to have an educated conversation or discussion about my way of life with someone that has knowledge or experience that can contribute information, or has genuine questions. But it’s a totally different animal when someone with no ag education, experience or understanding acts like I am simple, country folk that needs to be protected from myself.
If you really want to “have our backs”, listen to us, talk to us – not at us. Ask us about our ag practices and why we choose those methods over others. Don’t put words in our mouths, or infer we are dumb. Don’t push for more legislation for us, more hoops for us to jump through to produce our food and fiber. Realize that our opinions about agriculture were formed from hands on experience, education, hard work and sometimes generations of family before us, – not the media, youtube and or food writers.