Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I've Been Shooting Farming in the Foot: Three Things I Wish We'd Stop Saying in Agriculture.

Hello, I'm a farmer. I've been shooting myself in the foot.

Here's how.

For years, we in agriculture, have raved about the redeeming qualities of "family farms".

Don't get me wrong, I loved growing up working with my family on our farm.
That's me, part-time grain cart driver, full-time Mama.

Today, I love farming with my husband and children, but what if you were not born into a "family farm"? How would that make you feel about farming? Is there some club that you didn't get invited to? Do you somehow not belong unless you have "blood" in farming?

What if your farm is experiencing success and is growing and you need to hire help?
How does this make non-family employees on farms feel? Like they're less important than the family members on the farm team? Not so. I care for our non-family team members (and their dogs) as much as I care about my own flesh and blood.

Every member of our farm team is important. Large, small, K9, I care about them all.

What if you exited a family farming partnership?  What kind of guilt would you carry for "breaking up the family farm", even if it was the right thing to do? Not all families work together in businesses in town. Not all families are meant to farm together either.

Worst of all, the term "family farm" has been hijacked and is being used in the media as a whiny, pity-filled, political pawn.

Don't feel sorry for me. I love my vocation. I'm happy with my choice.

As just 2% of the U.S. population (Source: American Farm Bureau Federation), we farmers better get really excited about recruiting future farmers and agribusiness professionals to support us and our peers, and we better do it quickly.

I say bring on the first generation agriculturalists! Celebrate them! Mentor them!

So, please, STOP SAYING "FAMILY FARM", just call it a "FARM".


The second way I've been shooting farming in the foot is calling what we do an "industry".

For years we've called ourselves an "industry". Rolls right off the tongue. Yes, we grow things and make things. Yes, we use lots of mechanization, but "industry" sounds cold. It doesn't sound enjoyable. It sounds inhuman.  What I love most about agriculture is the culture, our people.

We are a "community".  Even those we bid against for land rental contracts, we stop and help if they're stuck in the mud or broken down, and they do the same for us.  We go to church, 4-H, and school together.  In my opinion, rural communities are the best communities. Let's start talking about why we love living where we live. Afterall, most farms are rural and immobile. If we're going to recruit first-generation farmers (or convince our own kids to come back to our farms), we'd better start talking up why we love living where we live and the communities we are thriving in.

The third, and final, term, I'm guilty of using, that is further alienating those who choose to invest in what we grow; "Consumers".

This one is tough. It's been engrained since my Dairy Princess days.
1996-97 Maryland Dairy Princess.
A life changing experience and my first opportunity to hear what the public really thinks about agriculture.

However, these days I am a parent. I do most (but not all) of the grocery shopping. I'm on the production end of agriculture as well as the retail end and I don't like being called a "consumer".  That makes me feel like I am mowing through life like a Hungry Hungry Hippo.
This is Hungry Hungry Hippos, in case you weren't a child in the 1980's :)
Call me a "parent". Call me a "customer". Call me a "food decision maker" because I am important and with every trip I take to the grocery store, I am voting with my dollars. Better yet, call me a "food choice Mom",  but please don't call me a "consumer".

Thank you for hearing me out.  If you, like me, are going to try to change the way you talk about farming, which hopefully changes how people perceive farming, THANK YOU.

God Bless,
Sarah :)

"Then he (Christ) said to his disciples. "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Matthew 9:37-38, NIV


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  2. I SO agree with your take on the family farm issue but have to kind of (not the soft wording - kind of) disagree with the 'industry' issue. The use of the word industry has come about because society as a whole did not see farming as a profession, as a business - even though it allowed others to actually eat and survive. It has taken a long time and we're still not quite there, to have citizens of our nation see farming as a viable profession or business. Many don't know what it is, but to them it is not a JOB. This is especially true for small to mid-size farmers or ranchers who are faced with this prejudice from OTHER farmers, who view what they do as a hobby or just 'gardening'. Until we ALL see the growing of food (livestock or crops) on any scale as a serious profession, a job, a business, an investment - we will not be taken seriously by government, financial or economic development agencies or those that eat food (notice how I didn't use the word consumer? I don't like that one either so you're spot on there). If a new farmers, agriculturalist is not taken seriously, if the venture they want to begin in growing crops or raising livestock is not seen as a 'business' they will face far to many barriers, like inability to get funding or technical support and they will ultimately fail.