Last week agriculture saw a rare opportunity; a major farm issue was showcased during prime time, complete with celebrities sharing food and farm facts. I asked Barbara Borges Martin, one of the thousands of farms impacted by California’s environmental over-regulations, to share her experience at the live filming of the Hannity on Fox show on September 17. This is important regardless of your state or residency; these types of environmental over-regulations may be precedent setting, people standing in food lines were receiving carrots from China and nearly 12% of U.S. food production comes from the San Joaquin Valley.
Barbara and her husband of 26 years are both 3rd generation dairy farmers who own Tony Martin Dairy in Lemoore, California. They have two children, both in college – Tara, 22, and AJ, 21. Both Barbara and her husband work on the dairy. Barbara serves as a director on the California Milk Advisory Board for Kings County and also as a delegate for Western United Dairymen.
1. How did it feel to see a major network sharing facts and sound bytes about agriculture in your home area?
My first reaction was – wow, we are finally getting heard! As a third generation dairy farm, I never remember having to “defend” our right to farm like we do now. Times have changed. All of the anti-agricultural and environmental issues have put hard working people in negative light, insulting who we are and what we do. Having national attention gives me hope that we are not too late to reach out and put our face on our farms. Hopefully it will reintroduce people to exactly where their food comes from, the importance of the quality and the standards that we follow to provide safe, affordable food.
2. What about people who discount the show because of FOX’s or Hannity’s political views?
I think that there are always people who are going to have extreme views either way. We have to accept that we can’t change those people BUT we can change those they influence. Most people have common sense and they appreciate seeing both sides of the story. I tend to be more conservative, yet I don’t feel negative about everything I hear from more liberal news sources. We have to use the venues granted to us, if it helps to clarify who and what we are and the struggles that we are dealing with.
3. Why is the California water issue critical to families, jobs and farms in California?
This is THE most important issue on so many levels! Most farms are family owned. Most of those for many generations. These families provide food for our state and nation. The abundance of the food grown in the Central Valley is phenomenal and I think that most people just don’t realize that. These farms supply thousands of jobs. If these farms do not have water than they can not function. Without water generations of family farms will be gone and along with those farms thousands of jobs they provide. Taking water from this industry hurts our state. It will raise the cost of food and the dependence of foreign foods that do not have the same quality standards that California agriculture has.
4. Why was this event important to your farm?
My farm has water and I have been able to grow crops to feed my cows. I often have to purchase hay and other commodities from other farmers. The loss of water affects the availability of the crops I need for my cows and increased the cost. We have to take a stand now, before it gets worse. We need the exposure this event brings to educate those that are so removed from the farms due to urban living. The biggest win was to finally feel like we have a voice. Also the uniting of all farmers was powerful and made me proud to call myself one of them!
5. What do you feel are the greatest challenges for your children to farm in America today?
This is a discussion we have quite often since my kids are in college. They want to continue the farm, but it’s not a decision they can make lightly with all of the regulations and issue they face, along with an extremely volatile market (dairy farmers are experiencing the worst milk prices since the Depression). My daughter is working on her psychology degree and my son is continuing on to veterinarian school so that he can have a large animal practice and hopefully carry on with the dairy. Young farmers need to get involved in social media and really work at putting a “face” on the farmer to reassure America of the blessings that farmers provide – and to give young farmers the chance to carry on!
Barbara and I connected through Twitter; we have never met in person, but have shared hundreds of conversations through this social media tool. Issues we’ve discussed range from feeding calves to the dairy economic crisis to anti-agriculture activists. If you’d like more, I suggest you take a look at her blog at www.dairygoddess.wordpress.com or join us on Twitter. Barbara commented “I’m also working at getting more involved in social media. I think it is a great way to put a face on the farmer and for people outside of agriculture to get acquainted with the people who provide their food.” Congratulations, Barbara, for your role as a leader in giving voice to the critical issues impacting people who raise our food – and ultimately, each person who eats!