Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Anyone can be a farmer
Did you catch the 2016 Michael Bloomberg comment that went viral online this week? Where he stated anybody can be a farmer.
If you missed it, he went on to say you dig a hole, put a seed in the hole, cover the hole, and up comes a crop. It’s a process job that anyone can learn. From there, we went into an industrial society, where if you can put a piece of metal on the lathe, and turn the handle in the direction the arrow shows, you can have a job. Now we are in the information economy, which is built around replacing people with technology. The skillsets you have to learn now are how to think and analyze. Which is a whole degree level different, requiring a lot more (mental) grey matter.
Shocking. Outrageous. Inaccurate.
Yes, I agree it is all of those things, and more. After all, I am a farmer. My brother has his degree in machining. I am aware of what it actually takes to get, and keep, a job in either industry.
In an industry-wide response that is refreshing to see, agriculture vehemently agrees that Bloomberg doesn’t have a clue.
But here’s the thing. He isn’t the only one with that mindset.
I have family who live in a large city, and it doesn’t take long to realize that they and their contemporaries see us as quaint, simple country folk. One step up from the petting zoo they took their kids to last weekend. Dressed in plaid and holding a pitchfork. Not stupid, but certainly not at their level of intelligence, business savvy, or social status.
Public mindset about us as individuals, and our industry as a whole, largely parallels Bloomberg’s high-profile statement. It is a widespread perception, and consequently a widespread believed reality.
For those of us in ag, it is not only a problem, but an opportunity.
Frankly, it is a darn shame that we have to educate people about where their food comes from. Or, what goes into raising that food. Or, the mental intellect required to farm and/or ranch. We shouldn’t have to. Consumers should have the common sense, or necessary grey matter and level of thinking Bloomberg describes, to figure out the facts for themselves.
But, by and large, they don’t, and we must be involved in educating them. If we aren’t, someone else will happily fill in the blanks for us, and compared to many, Bloomberg’s description was flat complimentary.
We have to continue to drop those seeds in the ground, do everything required between that step and the crop magically coming up or the calves or lambs magically hitting sale day, while also explaining the process and end result to the public. In plain English so their advanced thinking and analyzing brains can absorb and comprehend it.
Not that they are dumb; most aren’t. They are simply mis- or uneducated and oblivious to the trades which provide for their basic life needs, as was so perfectly showcased in Bloomberg’s narrative.
You’ve likely heard countless ideas on how to advocate for agriculture. Instead of listing or discussing several, I want to share a relationship I stumbled into that has become one of my greatest opportunities to share the truth about our industry.
I got to know a vegetarian.
It began when I was asked to judge photography at the local county fair. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the lady beside me looked uncomfortable because I was woofing down a hamburger. By the end of the day, we had met, and I had learned she was a vegetarian.
We eventually friended one another on Facebook, though her page largely made, still makes me, cringe. I’m sure mine has the same effect on her as over time we have respectfully butted heads on numerous issues.
Then, one day, she sent me a video and asked me a question, wanting my input as a rancher.
I hadn’t sought this lady out in an effort to educate her on my lifestyle. But, when I received that undercover animal cruelty video and the affiliated question, the lightbulb clicked. I had an opportunity to share the truth with her. So, I sat down and took time to send a response.
For the last five years, she has continued to ask me a handful of questions annually. Reaching out on everything from state legislation to most recently seeing a trailer she believed to be overloaded with hogs, and wondering what would happen to them. I have answered every question to the best of my ability. Always taking the time to think about it, and formulate a well-rounded response without sugar-coating or bias. She always thanks me, whether she agrees with me, or not.
Had she sat in on that speech Mr. Bloomberg gave, and thought his comment’s odd or off-base, I am willing to bet she would have asked me about them. While I would have responded only to her, she would then have the opportunity to take my perspective and share it with who knows how many people. Most of whom I probably couldn’t communicate effectively with due to differences in opinion.
My point in all of this is that Bloomberg’s perspective is not his alone. However, even in the face of such frustrating and false ideals regarding both the people of agriculture and the profession itself, there are always good things. Always opportunities. Ways to balance the scale of information. And, while all the incredibly well-thought out responses teaming with facts, realistic perspectives and personal stories I have read online are truly awesome, they aren’t the only way to effectively share our truths.
Never write off the impact of simply making time for conversation with people willing to listen. What you tell them may eventually reach the ears of those who need to hear it most.