It seems it’s becoming more fashionable to eschew the slew of slogans that heap praise onto farmers. The thinking goes something like this: slapping a “Thank a Farmer” sticker on your truck bumper condescends to nonfarmers, does little to improve agriculture’s image, and it’s kinda like a lead singer that wears his own band’s t-shirt – it’s just not rock n’ roll.
But my beef with this and similar image campaigns is that they treat “the American farmer” as something, not someones. And farmers are much more interesting as individuals than as an institution. Like 2 million times more.
So, would the real farmers please stand up? All you ordinary people scattered among the rest of us Americans in our individual pursuits of happiness.
I don’t mean that as a slight. Rather, I see it as Mr. Chesterton did:
“We should always endeavor to wonder at the permanent thing, not at the mere exception. We should be startled by the sun, and not by the eclipse. We should wonder less at the earthquake, and wonder more at the earth.”
That is to say the mythical Marlboro Man is decidedly less wonderful than a real story of a rancher named Jeff and his son who likes to talk about dinosaurs and other important things.
And while we respond to a hungry world with the triumphant call of progress, we see that agriculture’s endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth has always been miraculous in its monotony. To get caught up in the heroics of feeding the masses is to forget that each sprouted seed offers a sufficient marvel.
How much more wonderful to think that this intimate involvement in the process of life is not reserved for a special class of God’s chosen caretakers, but is work chosen by mere human beings.
And then to see a that a farmer’s stewardship of land mirrors a teacher’s stewardship of knowledge or a musician’s stewardship of culture or a nurse’s’ stewardship of health is to see we share something in our humanity.
So in all this clamoring over the right image, I’ve come to learn that any particular farm is simply an extension of its particular farmer. If you hope to understand anything about agriculture, you’ll first need to know something about its people. Particular people – with names, and faces, and passions and perspectives.
You know, people like you and me.
Seth Teter is an agricultural communicator at the Ohio Farm Bureau working to facilitate conversations at the intersection of food, agriculture and community.