Now that my growing season has come to end, I find myself engaged in agriculture in different ways. I am just now returning from Pennsylvania where I had an opportunity to spend time with a group of individuals with limited exposure to agriculture and farming. Quite honestly there was a wide-spread and a less than flattering opinion of farmers in the room. As a former urbanite I was well aware of this tendency, but now that I am a full convert I was not amused but offended. Then I realized we farmers only have ourselves to thank. I spent the better part of my time engaging people as they asked hundreds of questions about everything from organics to the farm bill. At the end a few individuals found it necessary to apologize for their early assumptions. Ag America we need to wake up, step up and speak up. But our message needs to speak a new language… one of quality, innovation, and excellence.
We need to post fewer pictures of cute baby farm animals and 4H pets on Facebook and spend a little more time engaged in discussion on what matters – TO OUR CONSUMERS. I was the only “farm expert” in the room and my credibility on the farm bill, food safety, and the abilities of the American farmer went unchallenged. For many I was better than an expert because I was standing right in front of them speaking THEIR language.For many I was better than an expert because I was standing right in front of them speaking THEIR language.
I was the first person they had EVER heard speak of agriculture using terms THEY UNDERSTOOD. I learned they care a whole lot LESS about my multi-generational family farm and a whole lot MORE about the fact that our farm held itself accountable to strong financial standards and worried about things like profitability, labor management, and quality control. They were relived!!!
It is time farmers start speaking of our profession as a professional…someone engaged in their occupation and holding themselves accountable to a set of standards… standards of excellence and accountability. And yet, we are the least likely to talk about ourselves in that way. Why is that?
I know far too many farmers to not KNOW that deeply embedded in our DNA is a huge commitment to these types of standards. The very best of us know all about quality, safety, profitability because we live and breathe it every day… so why not talk about it in a way that conveys a message that farming was not the occupation chosen because it was the only thing left after failing at something else? Why not talk about your moments of excellence and your lessons learned in a way that conveys a message of, “I love what I do, I wake up each morning grateful for one more day… we are so committed to quality and safety that we go above and beyond the industry standards. Now before you question whether I mean you… I DO. You are my brother, husband uncle, grandfather, grandmother, mother and friend and I have seen some GREAT stuff. Own it, celebrate it, and share it.
A cautionary note …the desire to connect to agriculture is VERY much alive and well. I cannot tell you how many people made a point to tell me how they owned an acre or two or eight or 100. They were proud and wanted me to appreciate what they were able to acquire for themselves… as one put it, “If you don’t own land… you don’t own anything that matters.” These were the words of a former CEO of an AEROSPACE engineering firm. I talked to others who shared their knowledge of their local farms and even their personal efforts to raise their own garden. They are sharing their efforts to try and be more like YOU. THAT my farmer friend is the highest form of flattery. Own it, celebrate it, and share it.v