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I’m A Bad Ag Teacher

Hello readers! My ag teacher friend wrote this blog, and out of concern for their place in the community, we thought it might be a good idea to post it here anonymously. I believe this needs to be said and shared. Please read with an open mind…..


I’m A Bad Ag Teacher

I’ve been teaching high school agriculture for several years now. I love my job immensely. I pour my heart and soul into it. But what has become apparent over time is that I am a bad ag teacher.
Good ag teachers are all about creating people who will advocate for agriculture and tell its story to the disconnected public. I don’t do that.
Good ag teachers are constantly applying for grants and working community connections for sponsorship dollars. I don’t do that.
Good ag teachers believe that agriculture today is pretty awesome and the methods and way of life need to be protected. I really don’t believe that.
Good ag teachers are relentlessly optimistic, believing that the future of agriculture is always bright and a more important focus than the past. That’s really not me.
Good ag teachers teach their students how to perform taxidermy or methods of hunting or fishing. I don’t give a hoot about my students learning those things.
Good ag teachers encourage students to participate in youth apprenticeships or work release so students can get a head start on their careers. I struggle to do this.
So by now you’re probably thinking, “She really doesn’t do all those things that sound important, but she doesn’t necessarily sound bad. What does she actually do?” Well, let me tell you.
I encourage my students to make the most of their free (taxpayer funded) education as they never know where life will take them. I want my students to make the best choices for themselves, but to never turn down an opportunity to learn. Sometimes that takes place at an outside placement, but you can never get those years in the classroom back.
More than hands-on skills, more than agricultural knowledge, I teach my students to think critically and evaluate issues from all sides. Whether it’s wildlife management, raw milk consumption, or animal cloning; we examine data, we look for holes in arguments, and we take the perspective of those we disagree with so we are both better informed and can better communicate about things we care about.
I teach that land management on this continent did not begin with white colonizers, and that the idea of a place without white people being labeled wilderness is preposterous. By now you can probably see I’m a weird ag teacher.
I teach that soil health is paramount to human survival and that the methods we are currently using are not enough to save us. We will have to change our methods to become climate resilient and protect our water supply. This makes me at most a mediocre ag teacher.
I teach that science literacy and consistency is important for all people, and that the natural sciences and social sciences cannot exist without the other. The natural sciences help us understand how the world works, but the social sciences explain how the functions of the world affect the dynamics of human lives. The anti-GMO movement didn’t happen because lots of people just wanted to be willfully ignorant of science, it happened because they had valid concerns about how biotechnology is utilized and there was an us v. them mentality with farmers/scientists/agribusiness and consumers. This makes me a near heretical ag teacher.
I teach that United States agriculture, in all parts of the country, has been complicit in injustices since before we became a nation. Slavery, sharecropping, theft of Native land and methods, migrant and immigrant exploitation, it’s woven into the fabric of how our agricultural landscape today came to be. And despite those injustices, all people in this country have a right to determine their level of involvement and understanding of agriculture. Some want to be involved in agriculture but struggle with access due to centuries of disenfranchisement. Others don’t, and we need to be okay with that. I don’t want to be a computer science expert, I just want my phone to work for me; people in cities (many of whom were forced off the land) just want their food to be trustworthy and safe, we shouldn’t expect them to be able to list which crops have GMO versions or why castrating pigs is important. By now you’ve guessed it, I’m a pretty bad ag teacher.
And most of all, I don’t teach that agriculture exists in a vacuum, that ag is a sacred profession that is to be revered and subsidized more than others, and that there aren’t real issues in agriculture today that are hurting real people (and I’m not talking about animal rights activists). I’m an awful ag teacher.
The official mission statement of agricultural education is “Agricultural education prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resources systems.” I actually really like this, but it allows for a little too much wiggle room for me. Good ag teachers would argue that the phrase “informed choices in the global … systems” is referring to understanding the place of biotechnology and feeding the world. The bad ag teacher in me sees that phrase and thinks of making sure my students understand the fraught issues with natural gas pipelines, food sovereignty, and animal welfare. That’s why I wrote my own mission statement, “Agricultural education is a holistic education with a radical agenda to empower young people to be inclusive community leaders who will be agents of change in order to create a climate stable, biodiverse, environmentally and socially just, and food secure world; and have the pragmatism, communication skills, and hands-on abilities to make it so.” They’re essentially the same, right?
Most of the ag teachers I’ve met are ridiculously kind and giving people. They love the agrarian life and want to be able to pass it on to future generations, and that’s noble. But in ag education we have a ton of privilege, even if funding issues don’t always make it feel that way. We work with students who are overwhelmingly white and rural, for whom social distancing is more the norm, the police are little more than a friendly nuisance, and the right to live on the land we inherited from our ancestors is never questioned. We also spend a ton of time with our students, often forging deep bonds and helping to shape their futures. That is a privilege beyond measure. But to paraphrase a movie, “with great privilege comes great responsibility.” Since we have those bonds and time with our students, we are in a better position than most to help students understand what’s going on in the world, and what our role in it is. And for our students of color, if we aren’t acknowledging the role and trauma of their people in agriculture throughout time, we are guilty of whitewashing and erasure. If we think ag education is valuable to all students, they need to be able to see themselves both past and present in our story, and not just talk about George Washington Carver because he’s the only black person in ag we know of.
There are days I want to be a good ag teacher so badly. I tell myself I’m going to apply for that grant from a large agribusiness with questionable practices, or I’m going to explain that modern dairy production is the most efficient system ever and leave it at that, or that I’m going to spend time teaching my students to memorize different types of fishing equipment. I could do all of that, it would be easy, the resources are there. But no matter how hard I try I can’t follow through on these things and once again I show my true colors, as a bad ag teacher.

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Shootin’ the Bull or Shooting Ourselves?

Change is hard for some of us. Especially in agriculture where we tend to be proud of the fact ‘we’ve always done it this way”. But when we resist change in such a way that we hurt or dehumanize other people, we need to stop being proud of that heritage. We need to realize we are part of the problem.
The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association mission statement is this: Advance and protect the interests of all cattlemen by enhancing profitability through representation, promotion and information sharing. Imagine my surprise when I saw Steve Ollerich, the President of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, opinion piece in their magazine. He goes on a tirade that does nothing to enhance the beef industry in any way. In fact, I wager it reenforces negative stereotypes our urban peers have about us. I am going to put a screenshot here because we need to talk about it.

When a leader of an agriculture organizations jokes about killing transgender people, and the whole industry doesn’t stop, and go, ‘NOT OK!’ we have a problem. I’m hoping by drawing attention to it, my industry can grow, learn and improve.
When jokes are funny, we all laugh. When jokes dehumanize, it’s a gateway to violence, it normalizes aggressive, and violent policing. Dehumanizing language has long been used to justify violence and destruction of minorities. I am not willing to perpetuate this.
I see the beef industry asking again and again, how we can connect with consumers. Here is our chance. Here is a glorious, wonderful chance for us to step up, in our white cowboy hats, and do some good. We need to talk about this harmful language and attitude. This isn’t about being politically correct, or call out culture, this is about treating all human beings with respect. Something we, in agriculture, demand constantly. It’s about doing the right thing. I look forward to both The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association addressing this in a mature and professional manner we can all learn from.

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Wordless Wednesday: Spring Showers

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I March For Agriculture

I March for Agriculture

Agriculture loves to put an opinionated woman in her place. My friend Abbi said it best, “the Goldilocks mentality… be strong but not too strong. Be smart but not too smart”. If we step outside our allotted roles we become fair game for attacks and put downs. This does serve a purpose though, it keeps us in our place, it keeps us subservient and quiet.

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Gender roles, patriarchy and sexism are still very much alive and well within agriculture. We still perpetuate them, we still are guided by them, we still adhere to them. I was reminded of this when I was tagged in the comments section of a status update from the California CattleWomen’s Facebook page. The post was a variation of the “Why We Don’t March” status update that floats around rural Facebook every time a women’s march is organized (fun fact: women were not even allowed in FFA until 1969).

Before I delve into why this is an issue, I’d like to post the groups mission statement. I believe it’s important to know the mission of a group. It is as follows: “Because California is the world leader in food production, the most productive agriculture region on earth and because; the production of Beef Cattle is California’s fifth largest commodity, we, the California CattleWomen will focus on promoting a better understanding to consumers as to where their food originates; the quality controls used towards its safety; the impact the Beef Industry has on the economy of California; and the overall, far-reaching contributions the Beef Industry has to society as a whole.”

The post from the California CattleWomen

The post from the California CattleWomen

This is problematic when a public group representing agriculture would post such a divisive, tone-deaf and antiquated status update. Obviously, it’s an attempt to silence consumers who speak up when something is wrong, by women who often have a family name or land that affords them some protection from the wrongs. It also perpetuates the rural/urban divide, which is something agriculture has been struggling with for a long time.

I know many agriculture groups are struggling with membership. This is perhaps a major reason why. All women in agriculture are not going to have the same experiences. A greenhand young woman will not be treated the same as the fifth generation rancher. Women who are brave enough to point out how we can be better by marching, or protesting are not our enemy. Offering support to the younger, more progressive generation will encourage us to join these groups. It will bring new life blood. Alienating us will only continue to spell the inevitable, slow, death march of these groups.

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The cattle industry desperately needs some good PR. We really need consumers to see cattlepeople in a better light. We have lab meat, environmental issues and a whole slew of other controversies where we NEED the public’s support. Posting something that attacks the dominate grocery shopper (women) is not a smart marketing tactic.

Maya Angelou said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time“. It is so easy to find farmers and rancher insulting our non agriculture peers on social media, it’s like we forget the public can see it.  Then we wonder why we are not communicating well with our consumers, why they don’t listen to us. We get upset when they call us uneducated or ignorant. You know what? I think they are just listening to Ms. Angelou; we are showing the public who we are, and are being treated accordingly.

I know the women who run these accounts have attended and even been panelist and presenter at many conferences teaching us ‘to reach beyond the agriculture choir,’ just like me. I learned alienating our consumer on public accounts was a bad idea, even on personal accounts. I just feel at some point we need to admit we’re not really trying to win consumers over, we’re not trying to learn from them. No, we want them to know how much better we are because of our lifestyle. Again, not promoting betting understanding to our consumer.

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The industry is at a tipping point. If our groups and leaders stepped up and lead by example, I know we could create some positive change. We either need to become serious, follow our mission statements, and stop attacking the hand the pays us or realize life as we know it, is going to change. Here is my call to action, let’s be better. Let’s stop putting down our consumers for things they are passionate about. Let’s gently remind (call out) our ranching peers to do the same. When we see industry groups setting poor examples by posting tasteless, hurtful things, let’s ask them to learn from their mistakes and stop. Our way of life simply depends on it.

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Wordless Wednesday: Happy Boo Dog

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Be Better Agriculture: How Women Perpetuate Sexism


Sexism and misogyny are a topics that are hitting the agricultural industry magazines and social media feeds with increased frequency. Our conversations are louder and reaching more people than ever before. Often women talk about their experiences and offer up advice on how they dealt with or how they acted when confronted by these issues. Sadly, most of this advice is feeding into the very system that demeans women.

Patriarchy is strong, it will not easily be changed without hard work. We were raised within its rules, subconsciously applying them to our every thought and action. It is not surprising women feel the need to perpetuate sexism and internalized misogyny, even without knowing it. Afterall, it is our societal norm. In fact, if women are actively and loudly working against the status quo, it is likely they will become a pariah, especially in agriculture.

Many of our peers call for us to modify our behavior so we will not be harassed, assaulted or attacked by men. This is victim blaming. Men need to be held accountable for their behavior. Men need to NOT DO THESE THINGS TO US. Women do not need to change who we fundamentally are to “make” men act better. If you are advocating women change their behavior, you are doing nothing to help the underlying cause of mistreatment; men. In fact, what you are saying is ‘make sure that man attacks another woman’, one who is “asking for it” by not acting “appropriately”.img_3803

When women say they “show and act with respect at all times”, so men will not harass them, it is yet another way we blame ourselves for how men act and minify other women we feel are not acting within societal norms. “Respect” is used as a token to say “I do nothing that could possibly be construed as threatening, questioning or anything that may challenge the status quo”. This is a safety net for women who feel as if women who do speak out are “asking for or deserve it”. If your version of ‘respect’ requires a woman to disrespect herself by tolerating people diminishing her, it is not respect, it is subserviency.img_3800

Another common fallacy cloaked as advice is urging other women to “give 110% all the time” or “I work twice as hard so men can’t complain”. This is heartbreaking because it shows women really do have to work twice as hard as men to be considered worthy. Saying ‘I’m always going to be at 100%’, is lie and an unrealistic expectation to live up to which damages mental and physical health. No one is perfect, not even the men we are asking to be equal to.img_3799

Policing women’s behavior is ingrained into our culture. Little girls are taught to act ladylike with our posture, dress codes dictate what we can wear or how we should look, but “boys will be boys”. When women say they “don’t look for ways to be offended” they are playing right into the policing behavior our culture has taught us. Speaking up, calling men’s (and some women’s) problematic behavior out, setting boundaries, are the only ways sexism will be confronted to make change. img_3886Some women say “they don’t call people out”, they just ignore the problematic behavior. The issue there is if you say nothing about a demeaning, misogynistic or sexualizing comment, often it feels like you agree with the person uttering those comments. A simple “what did you mean by that?” is sometimes all it takes for a person to reflect on an inappropriate comment and it does not feel like a call out. But ignoring the behavior will not make it go away, it continues to normalize it, making men feel okay to continue.IMG_3808

It is hard to process women not believing other women in terms of experiencing sexism. When women claim “I’ve never experienced harassment or sexism”, or ”it is overblown” it is a lot to unpack. Especially because this is a topic that is spoken and written about constantly. Whole social movements and laws have started because of the discrimination women face. Most of these women, who claim to ‘never experienced it’ are looking for approval from men. Some women have been taught being “one of the boys” is the greatest achievement they are capable of, but this is because it is our cultural norm, especially in agriculture. 

The worst thing this woman thought she could say to me was she'll be "drinking beer with the ag guys" because I have largely been ostracized for speaking out.

The worst thing this woman thought she could say to me was she’ll be “drinking beer with the ag guys” because I have largely been ostracized for speaking out.

If the women, who never experience sexism, were forced to reckon with the truth, that sexism does indeed exist, they would then be forced to see the victims. Victim is a hard label to wear for some, perhaps because victims are not perceived as powerful, as ‘one of the boys’. A victim is someone who did not conform, who had it coming. We blame victims in our culture, victimhood is a curse. These women see how women who did speak up have been treated, they watch as the whistleblowers are attacked by the very men they defend as ‘good guys’, they do not want to be the social pariah.img_3805

However, sometimes we must use these behaviors as a survival mechanism. Sometimes it is not safe for us to challenge the status quo – our comfort zones, our jobs or even our lives depend on keeping the peace. These situations are far more common than we realize. Again, it is heartbreaking the emotional labor often falls to the women trying to survive but not the men performing the behaviors. It is important for those of us who can speak out safely, to do so.img_3804

It can be very hard to even realize the behaviors mentioned above are part of the problem. As mentioned before, the rules of patriarchy are so normalized and ingrained, we just do not notice we are playing into them until someone points it out to us. Unlearning these rules is going to be a lifelong mindful practice for most of us. It is important to remember if you feel hurt because your behavior was corrected, you are not the victim.img_3801-1

We owe it to our industry, to our future, to get better, to ensure a welcoming and safe environment for our agricultural peers. Next time, before you urge women to be more ‘respectful’, or ‘ignore’ the problem, please think twice. Be better.

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Wordless Wednesday: Miss Cherry Pie

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Good Intentions

Sometimes Agriculture Has Good Intentions…

The agriculture industry is full of good intentions in terms of lessening the rural/urban divide, well, at least we think we are. Ag hosts field days, ag in the classroom, ag literacy events, all in the name of education. Farmers and ranchers are urged to share their stories with their urban counterparts. We open our barn doors and ranch gates offering our non rural peers a glimpse into our way of life. But what does agriculture do to urge farmers and ranchers to learn about our urban counterparts? What does agriculture do to educate ourselves about our urban peers? How do we glimpse into their lives? Why isn’t an effort being made to make this a two way street?

Sure, agriculture talks about consumer demand and market trends but these are faceless entities, void of any personal connection. Just as the farmer or rancher in our urban peer’s mind might be from American Gothic or a John Wayne movie, a caricature of the real thing. When agriculture talks about “consumer” we aren’t picturing actual living and working people, we see a group that needs to be taught, needs to be educated.

Agriculture loves to claim our urban peers and counterparts are out of touch with us. But perhaps, agriculture being the minority (less than 2% of our populations works in production agriculture), we are out of touch with the majority? What if agriculture is so cloistered within our own culture we forget there is a much bigger world out there? Often the only time agriculturists travel is for industry events, to talk to other industry people about industry things. Living and working in the agricultural world can be very sheltered experience.

If agriculture truly wants to connect, if we truly want to share our way of life we need to realize it is a two way street. We are not entitled to demand everyone learn about us without offering to do the same, simply because we grow food, fuel and fiber for them. We need to see value in all work done to support the society we live in.

I believe it’s time agriculture seeks out an Urban Literacy week. It’s time we take the same responsibility we demand of our consumers; learn about their way of life, form an emotional connection. It’s time we treat our urban peers with the respect and attention we demand. Perhaps it’s time for us to be educated? I urge those of you in agriculture reading this, join me in being mindful of our urban counterparts? Ask them questions about their way of life, their struggles, their concerns. Be less interested in forcing your experiences on them. Work on connecting over issues we share, not what divides us.

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Wordless Wednesday: Ears

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Wordless Wednesday: Marissa’s Last Litter

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