I saw a photo on a farmer friend’s Facebook page (it’s Iowa hog farmer Larry Sailer for those of you who wonder). The photo (by Agriculture Impressions) was of a beautiful farm, with corn growing in the foreground and a perfect red barn in the background. Familiar text crossing the sky quoted Shawn S. Stevenson saying “Most Americans are two to four generations removed from the farm. The general public has very little idea of what agriculture is about. Food is cheap and plentiful. Everyone takes it for granted.”
The quote is used a lot. In fact, when I searched Google for Shawn S. Stevenson, the same quote came up several times on various websites. I finally saw a site that put a bit of Stevenson’s bio there, it said he was a “Clovis, California, citrus grower and former President of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.”
I don’t know the Stevenson family, but after decades of time with farmers I feel like I know many families like them. They are the salt of the Earth. They are hard-working people who come through for their neighbors. They take pride in doing a job well and the role they play in our food supply.
There is a real pride in being on the same farm for generations, so much so that many farmers I know put that in their bio event when limited to 140 characters. Most farmers (though certainly not all) cannot imagine what their life would be like if they were born and raised in a city.
But for my family, our vision of the world has been very different for generations. I didn’t know any farmers growing up but I knew the stereotype. When someone mentioned a farmer the picture had more to do with what they looked like and how dirty their trucks were than what they valued or how they really approached their day. Wow was I wrong (and I’ve never seen Larry at work, but he is every man at a meeting). I take a lot of time trying to help my city friends see farmers for the more than I know they are and sometimes like today, I think that maybe people from the farm should try to see the world through a city girl’s eyes so I asked the question aloud instead of keeping it to myself:
“I wonder what would change if we looked at it as most farmers are two to four generations away from population centers? Would it change the approach? It would help farmers realize they are far away from daily life for urban folks like me just as much as I’m far away from the farm. Just a question to ponder.”
But what I was picturing was more speculative like this:
When you think of city folks, what do you picture?
See, I’m one of those people who loves living right in the thick of things, who wants to have lots of choices in ethnic restaurants within 10 minutes of home, who sleeps right through the planes flying overhead because I’m near the airport but can’t sleep in the country when loud frogs bellow or owls screech,. who’s neighbors are roller derby girls, gay guys and lawyers. But there are lots of city girl stereotypes I don’t fit and those things I use to describe me don’t really get to the things I really value.
Do you think the conversation changes based on the image, judgments and stereotypes that go along with it?
Because I think at the end of the day, it’s hard to feel removed from something that not even your grandparents felt a connection to… that’s something we share whether we’re urban or rural. We share a deep interest in wanting our children to have the best the world can offer but maybe our perspective guides us to think of those things differently. We all value relationships with the people we count on day in and day out and almost all of us could find room for a few more friends at dinner time.
If farmers continue to view city folks as removed from the reality farmers know and city folks continue to see farmers as insulated from today’s world, can we move the conversation forward on things we all care about? Or do you think by taking some of the initial steps to understand the other’s perspective…. by focusing on the fact that we don’t understand things from another person’s point of view or by trying to see the world from where they sit, do you think we may change our own way of thinking?
Larry’s response to my question was “That is a great point Janice and is the point of why I have said, as farmers, we must first listen!” He may seem like the stereotypical nice quiet guy farmer I could have pictured years ago, but as I worked through the inspiration that brought me to write this post, he said “I think it’s a great original type of idea. Very new type of thinking for an old pig farmer. I’d like to share it.”
How do you see the world and what do you think about a city girl’s view?
Janice Person is a city girl who loves cotton and biotechnology. She stumbled into a passion for communications early in life and has never looked back. A colorful adventure is her personal blog and her work in public affairs for Monsanto includes blogging and social media outreach. Follow her on Twitter (@JPLovesCotton).