No bull – start a conversation with a farmer
First impressions are critical when it comes to forming opinions; unfortunately, they do not always convey the entire story. Modern farming faces this problem, as most farmers have remained quiet and allowed animal and food activists to talk about modern agriculture. I think more people should allow farmers to be a part of this conversation.
As I mentioned in a previous article, I grew up in an Arkansas farm family on a cattle ranch where we had our way of raising animals. I realized there is more to the story of ranching, so I embraced opportunities for education by working with cattle ranchers in Oklahoma and Tennessee, raising cattle for natural beef marketing in Wyoming, and working in several Texas feedlots. These experiences have broadened my skillset and perspective of raising cattle. However, that is not where the learning ends.
I have also explored learning opportunities from the other side of the story. Groups like Mercy for Animals, Humane Society of the United States, and PETA often publish undercover videos depicting scenes of animal cruelty and abuse. These videos are uncomfortable to watch, but I watch them because it is how they choose to present farming.
I also seek out others’ opinions through books and online literature. I own and have read material by food activists like Michael Pollan, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Joel Salatin, because I know they view things differently than I do, and I care to know why they believe what they do. Acknowledging these differences and learning to understand them is a part of a more balanced education.
My readers asked great questions in response to my last article and it is great to see a conversation-starting. However, some readers were critical of my message, claiming it was propaganda because it only shared a portion of the story. The latter group missed a prime opportunity to ask a farmer questions.
Growing food is a process that occurs over the course of months and even years, constantly evolving and responding to customer demands. Farming methods are far too complex to describe in just one post. These are things best learned over the course of time and require engaging in a dialogue.
Farmers are reaching out to engage in these conversations with their customers. Although most live miles away from urban areas, farmers are embracing social media, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube videos, and even blogging to share their stories of food production with you, their customers.
There are many farmers blogging about what cattle eat at dairies in California and Wisconsin, on beef farms, on grass pasture, or in feedlots. Farmers detail the growing season for a number of crops including corn, wheat, and cotton. There are discussions of different farming methods, including organics, heirlooms, and GMOs.
Farmers know a lot about our food products, the business of farming, and caring for the environment. They answer questions about animal welfare, hormones in your milk supply, talk about the contracts with businesses like Monsanto and describe their decisions to use antibiotics in livestock or the latest plant breeding technologies. If you have questions, there is a farmer somewhere willing to answer from their own experience.
If you have questions about where your food comes from, I encourage you to ask. Follow the farmers’ blogs mentioned above. Subscribe to their updates, connect with them on Twitter with the hashtag #agchat, listen to their side of the story, and engage in a conversation. Maybe we can meet in the middle and move forward for the sake of our country’s food supply.
Spend some time with these forward-thinking farmers:
U.S. Farmers and Ranchers: Food Dialogues
The Adventures of Dairy Carrie
Slow Money Farm
IA Farm Wife
Gilmer Dairy: The Dairyman’s Blog
The Farmer’s Life
The Meat of the Issues
Common Sense Agriculture
Have questions? We’ll try to get you some answers. Leave your questions in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to get a farmer to share some insight.
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