People often ask me where my passion for agriculture originates. After seeing me gladly stand up against pundits pointing fingers at farmers, many likely think it’s the anti-ag groups that fuel my fire. While it’s true that each piece of misinformation fans the flame, it’s really the people behind the food plate that give me the greatest inspiration.
Farmers and ranchers inspire me to keep up the good fight – though many of them likely never realize it. For example, Brand Farms were at a social media advocacy workshop I gave a couple of weeks ago in Indiana. They’ve gotten engaged in Twitter to the point of having a productive dialogue about why they support rBST as an effective tool on their dairy with an urban person. I find it inspiring that they’ve invested the time to learn Twitter – and are now building their fan page on Facebook, complete with pictures captioned to tell their farm’s story and pride in solid pedigrees.
Or, my mom friend, Chris Chinn, in Missouri. She’s sassy, she’s worried about her kids’ future, she likes fun clothes – just like most of my girlfriends. She just happens to be a pig farmer. Not just any hog farmer, but one who is fighting like mad to keep her family farm alive for future generations. And she does it incredibly well, even when faced with the financial destruction that the hog business saw in 2009. She has no high-speed internet service, yet makes a daily effort to engage in conversation about agriculture online – and speaks regularly at ag meetings. I’m inspired by her ability to reach out to moms and farmers alike to tell her story in a way that resonates across the country.
My greatest inspiration comes from those I’ve seen grow over time. For example, Ray Prock, a dairyman in California. I met Ray when I was coaching the Young Dairy Leaders Institute and he was always one of those participants who questioned everything. However, the effort to give answers paid off as Ray has consistently stepped into leadership roles. Five years later he serves as a daily source of inspiration as I watch him help rally the troops using social media, with efforts such as Farm2U on Facebook.
Sharing agriculture’s story isn’t rocket science – it’s relationships. And I’m very thankful to have an array of wonderful people who inspire me daily with the relationships they’re developing to put a face on the food plate. Like it or not, agriculture is a people business. In a time when we hear of a farmer shooting his animals and then taking his own life, something is broken in our agrifood system. I consider it my responsibility to put inspiration from farmers like these to use and hopefully effect change.
A good friend (who also farms) pointed out to me last weekend that I make a living off of worrying about how consumer’s accept or don’t accept agriculture. That’s true enough. However, it’s also true that I’d be perfectly happy if I talked myself out of a job. That’s only going to happen if we find a world where people have enough of a relationship with a farmer to question the misinformation campaigns by groups like HSUS, PETA and Sierra Club.
If you are a farmer or rancher, what are you doing TODAY to build connections with people who aren’t on your farm every day? Who knows – you might just be the next source of inspiration to someone in agriculture. Or, conversely, you may just be the next source inspiration for an activist group that are more than happy to tell your story for you.
And, if you are a consumer, please visit a real farm – firsthand. Don’t trust people on ABC or other mainstream media outlets who have done very little to get a real taste of modern food production on family farms. There are many wonderful farmers like the three above who really want you to know their story – and you’ll likely find them as inspiring as I do. Just let me know if I can help connect you!