If you are involved with agriculture then you have already heard the numbers: approximately 2 million people are involved in planning, growing, and harvesting food and related agriculture products as a business. Sometimes that numbers is shared as “less than 2% of the US population” are involved in growing food, fiber, and fuel. To put this another way, there are 309 million Americans whose main connection to agriculture is buying food.
Yes, many people may go to farmers’ market, others may know someone that live on a farm, and quite a few will have gardens. But that large gap, 2 million vs 309 million (one farmer/rancher to 155 non-farm people) means many people are not really aware of what it takes to grow tomatoes for Kroger, get eggs to Safeway, or deliver milk daily to Organic Valley.
How do those 309 million Americans learn of farming? It could be that people learn of farming from stories like Farmer in the Dell, The Three Little Pigs, or the Little Red Hen. Maybe. How about from characters like Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie, Snowball and Nepolean in Animal Farm, or Wilbur of Charlotte’s Web? Also likely. What do the brands of Elsie the Cow, youthful Tim and Richard Smucker in the strawberry fields, or Bob Evans down-on-the-farm do to enhance the image of farm and agriculture in the majority of Americans’ minds? And how do movies like Chicken Little and Babe, or television shows like the Muppet Show portray farm animals?
What ever the path, many people learn of farming not mainly from actual farmers and ranchers but through media, marketing, and story telling. Many of the mythologies of farming (red barn, pitch forks, three little pigs) come from a version of farming in the early 1900’s, when farming was practiced by a much larger group of people (in 1940, the US had 31 million farmers on 7 million farms, growing food for 132 million people).
For farmers and ranchers: sharing agriculture’s culture, history, and well being with 309 million people is a big task. There is no way to easily scale up 2 million people to share agriculture stories and livelihood for all to see. First off, farmers and ranchers have many other things to do, like growing that food! Second, not everyone is interested in telling stories. It is just not what they want to do. Lastly, not all 309 million non-farm Americans may be interested in listening.
What should you do? Don’t let the numbers dissuade you. You don’t have to tell everyone how you plant corn, care for cattle, or buy tractors. You don’t have to join every social network to share what is happening. And you don’t have to spend 24x7x365 glued to the Internet. However, to make some change in how Americans learn of agriculture requires that you do something. What?
- Reach out to non-farm Americans through school groups, churches, conferences, or other places people organize.
- Help answer questions, be helpful, offer something back.
- Be thoughtful, courteous, and kind.
- Use the sharing and telling tools you know best, first.
Sharing stories will involve creating some form of media. Learn about taking pictures with your phone, creating short videos to post on YouTube, or writing blog posts. No matter the media (writing, pictures, video, audio) what is important is that you start. Make connections with others like you to learn, share, and build.