Tuesday, March 15, 2016

National "We Aren't Naked and Starving" Day!

Well Ladies and Gents, you are in luck! Today is National Agriculture Day!

Let's celebrate agriculture by putting on clothes, eating, and enjoying our homes. Because without farmers we are all naked, hungry, and homeless. And Lord knows, some, uh...most...well, really ALL of us need to be covering all that up.

Ag gets a bad rap. (bad rap—otherwise known as a bum rap—is dishonor resulting from false accusations or trumped-up charges.) Yes, I looked up the exact definition. Because it matters.

We are well fed, America. We have more options than anyone, we have strict food safety regulations, we have better practices, and more waste than very many other places. (that is not me bragging, just a point to be made.) We have access to any kind of food, no matter the season. We have technology that allows us to do more with much less. And try as they may, the anti crowd cannot take the facts away. They can blur, lie, twist, turn, and manipulate to their heart's content. They can correlate this to that and that to this, but as we all know, correlation is not causation. 

We are spoiled, America. We have this little thing called free speech. And while it may not be as free as it once was, there is a portion of our country that may not like what is being said, but acknowledge that it is their right to say it. There is an ever growing other portion that says free speech is theirs, and anything to the contrary shouldn't be allowed. Let's be honest, we, in agriculture, have done a poor job of standing up for ourselves. We have allowed a negative narrative be pushed because it is the speaker's right to free speech. And sometimes we let a small group intimidate us into silence because we are afraid we might say something wrong. 

If you are involved in agricultural organizations you have had many workshops on how to answer consumer questions, how to respond to the negativity that plagues our country, and received talking points and instruction on how to help guide a conversation. Farmers are a mostly quiet, hard working group. We spend 10-14 hours a day doing that which we love (most days.) We have technology at our fingertips, but it takes focus to do most of the things we do. And we are being asked to pull focus from our loves, from our livelihoods, from our passion, to educate. Education is the easy part. We can talk about what we do, explain all day, but the problem is, we are sometimes trying to educate those who have already formed an opinion, not based on fact, but feeling, emotion, and what they read on the interwebs. The workshops try to get us out of our shell and to connect on any level with our customers.

We need these educational workshops. We need to learn how to relate to consumers. Forty years ago, people were glad to be able to go to the store and see affordable food on the shelves. Fifty years ago, the Depression was still too fresh for anyone to complain about having food on the tables. And because consumers were grateful to farmers for producing, they didn't need to know what seed you planted, what you watered it with, if you used technology or not. They cared that it was available and affordable. Those of us in agriculture have learned from those that came before us. And since those before us didn't have to defend practices, they didn't teach us how to. So we need these educational opportunities on how to talk about what we love so much we spend more hours doing that than anything else. 

The problem I have with most of these workshops and opportunities, is that they scare the shit out of us. It is true. You go hear a PR specialist tell you to say this and not that, because if you say THAT they are going to think terrible, awful, horrific things about you. Then they will call the EPA, MIB, IRS, FBI, and the NSA and if that isn't bad enough they will get successful, multi-million dollar scam artist like PETA and HSUS to come pay you a visit. And we are scared shitless to even look at a non-ag person or, God forbid, a camera. 

I am here today to tell you that we, the farmers, the agriculture super heroes, are able to tell our stories. We can talk to people. If you aren't comfortable with spilling a tub of facts and figures, or speaking without using jargon, it is ok. You can still tell your story. Your story has emotion, it has passion, it has smiles and tears, and that is what is winning hearts in today's society. People like the feels. The reason they send stupid amounts of money to HSUS/ASPCA is because they have sad puppies and that beautifully tear jerking Sarah McLachlan song. The feels. Consumers don't go look at those websites and dig until they find the part where those organizations want to do away with people having pets, or animal agriculture totally. People don't need those facts, because ....feelings.

That does not make consumers stupid, it makes them human. And what we have failed to do is make agriculture human. They see big companies. They see machines. They see a person that doesn't care about animals because they watched a documentary about someone lifting a cow with a piece of machinery and a chain. What they don't see is a farmer sitting on the steps with his head on his knees, tears in his eyes, because his most favorite, oldest momma cow went down, despite the best care that farmer and his vet could give her. And you can't let a 1700 pound cow lay without eating or drinking if there is any hope at all for her to make a recovery. They saw a baby calf that didn't make it through birth, but that video said they just killed it because it wasn't a girl cow. They didn't see the 10 year old that helped pull that calf, cry because they didn't understand why all of them couldn't be born happy and healthy. The consumer doesn't know that the farmer got up at 3am to milk, fed, built fence, then didn't get sleep the next night because he was up every 2 hours checking dry cows about to calve in the snow. He was unrolling hay, putting babies in the warmers with coats and feeding them warm colostrum just so they didn't freeze and had the best shot at life. The news said that their kids can't use antibiotics because farmers overuse them. They don't know that farmer's not only have to pay for the animal's antibiotics, but in our case, have to dump the profits down the drain when we do have a sick cow. Farmer's don't let their animals just stay sick. If the weather has been up and down and pneumonia starts through a herd, we have to treat them, then we have to dump their milk. We make nothing and we suffer right alongside our mommas because we have to watch them, treat them, feed them properly and just pray that the weather gets better so they don't die, and not get paid a dime for our product. That is the harsh truth. We don't use antibiotics for the heck of it. And buying something because an animal was "never given antibiotics" is the same as telling the ag industry to let sick animals die because of a label. 

Consumers don't always realize that we, the farmers, are consumers too. And they don't know what one of our weeks looks like because they are working their own job, raising their kids, and being fed a whole load of crap by the internet so they are worried about what a GMO is and where the gluten is because someone said its bad. They can't afford the organic and the natural homeopathy guru said that anything else will poison your kids, and you just can't easily find reliable information out there. 

Let's all just take a breather. Let's stop constantly having to defend what we do and our choices. Farmer's, we have got to be human, and let everyone see our human. Because if we don't, our customers are confused by the people making me and every farmer into machines and lab coats. We are more than what they are being shown. And you better believe that if we aren't doing the showing, someone is doing the lying. 

Consumers, come on. Please don't believe everything you read on the googlenet. If you want to discuss technology killing us, let's talk about the false information that is so readily available. The .coms and the wii-fives are taking us away from everything important and teaching us to value all the wrong things and believe all the crap.

You don't always have to trust what someone says, but you can ask one farmer, two farmers, three. We are out there, and we aren't all as elusive as my Milkman. Ask lots of questions. To really real people. Ask the experts. Not the guru, not the Dr. Oz, not the natural something-or-other. Most of the labels you are looking at for information are marketing objectives. They mean nothing, aren't regulated, don't tell you a dang thing about what you are buying. But you can ask us. We have the answers, and if we don't, we will sure as heck find out the truth for you. 

If farmer's weren't out here doing what we do....we would be a nightmare of a homeless, starving nudist colony. Lord, please don't let that be our future. 

Disclaimer #1: 
I appreciate all forms of agriculture. If you want to buy organic, Non-GMO, I don't have to understand it. I don't have to agree with it, but I do respect your CHOICE to do so. I will not bash another form of agriculture. I buy conventionally grown products. We are a conventional dairy. None of our options are wrong, just different. It takes all kinds for the world to go around.

Disclaimer #2:
When talking about farmers, I am referring to them in general. There are bad apples in every tree. Every walk of life has one or two that don't like to follow rules, treat people or animals with respect, but as a rule, farmers care about their animals and their land. We eat what you eat, live where you live, and we want to be healthy and have a world to pass on to our kids.