Tag Archive for Farmer

Farmers are people, too

Seth Teter

 

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.

 

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One For All, All For One

3 Musketeers (chocolate bar)

Just as many individual ingredients come together to create the 3 Musketeers flavor they still keep their individual characteristics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the main points that we in Agriculture have come to convey to our peers is that “agriculture must speak with one voice” and in most cases this seems simple enough. If we are talking about the same things the same way it is easier to gain consensus whether with legislators, regulators or just our customers. However I fear we are losing the individuality that makes Farmers and Ranchers unique. I am not saying we need to move away from the concept of speaking with one voice rather I propose we “speak with many voices aligned together” and highlight the vibrant culture of Agriculture.

For example take a minute and think of what the following statements convey when heard by someone outside of Agriculture “We as Farmers and Ranchers need to speak with a unified voice” & “Farmers and Ranchers have their own individual management styles that work for their individual farms and ranches”.

Is it possible we are confusing those outside Ag because we talk of unity yet multiple management styles?  Are we just reaffirming their fears of the “faceless Big Ag” by speaking as one?  Is there a way to convey a unified message while preserving the individual identity of farmers and ranchers too?

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Will labeling GMO’s affect farmers?

Earlier this summer Jennifer Mo wrote an excellent guest post for Just Farmers sharing her thoughts on GMO labeling. I am excited that she has also invited me to offer my perspective on her blog thus got me thinking more about the topic of labeling foods that are derived from genetically engineered (GE) crops and the effects that proposition 37 in California will have on farmers like myself.

Please take a few minutes to read my thoughts in the excerpt below and click through to read through how I believe the initiative would effect farmers like me from across the country.

 

As a farmer who grows both GE corn and GE free corn, I often am asked how I feel about this labeling question.  I must admit while I lean towards no labeling, I also have mixed feelings as to whether or not this is the correct stance to take on the issue.  Rather than give my opinions, I want to share how this proposition would affect my farm.
 
There are several reasons why we plant genetically engineered crops on our farm.  In corn, we choose to plant a variety that was developed to resist insects naturally rather than having to use insecticides that are not as effective and can be very harmful to the handler (me) if a mistake is made when applying it.  Depending on the type of soil, history and current weather trends, we often decide that insects will not be a major issue in a field and plant a non GE variety allowing us to save money, if the trend holds true and we don’t have any issues with insects in that field.
 
A field of non GMO corn on our farm
A field of non GMO corn on our farm
 
Currently, when it is time to harvest, no measures are taken to completely segregate corn varieties that are GE as there is no premium to do so; we get paid the same price for both GE corn and non GE corn.  It’s hard to tell what would happen if Proposition 37 passed, but I am assuming that my mill would want me to find a way to separate my corn into batches of non GE as well as that that contains GE corn. In other words I would be expected to follow procedures of identity preservation (IP) of all the seed on my farm.
 
Sounds simple right?

Click here to finish reading

 

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Monocultures – More than Meets The Ear

Seth Teter

I recently listened to a local farmer describe his extensive crop rotations, soil fertility and how he shunned chemicals.

Far superior to the unhealthy “monoculture” of conventional corn and soybeans planted by his neighbor, he said. And he made it all too clear – he didn’t care what his neighbor thought anyway.

It struck me: here was a farm where bugs and birds, trees and grass, crops and livestock all had a place. The one thing that didn’t belong, apparently, was a conversation with a neighbor.  The farmer didn’t seem to see the contradiction.

It points to a larger problem.

Criticism of our food system today stems from concern of consolidation: fewer food companies, fewer types of crops, fewer farmers, fewer choices for consumers, and so on.

We can debate the merits of each claim, but the fundamental fear is valid: a loss of diversity can mean a loss of security.

As this essay states: “Diversity means many links, many different approaches to the same problem. So a diverse community is a resilient community. A diverse community is one that can adapt to changing situations.”

Going back to the farmer who preached the ecology of agriculture, there was no similar concern for an ecology of relationships, an ecology of community or an ecology of thought.  There was no fear of a consolidation of ideas.

Indeed, monocultures had pervaded agriculture, if not in the barns and fields, then in its institutions, publications and social circles.

People of similar thought had joined together to become louder, and presumably, more influential. But this single-mindedness led to a predictable problem: resistance.

Individuals were reduced to labels: conventional and organic, big and small, farmer and consumer.  Each group had its own monocultural message. Year after year, the same arguments were applied, and our resistance to each other grew.

Fortunately, social media is allowing the emergence of a new conversation – one not based on loudness but on learning.

When it comes to how we communicate, the first thing we can learn is that there’s plenty to learn.

For example, there are farmers who, understandably, are proud of agriculture’s productivity: 1 farmer can now feed 150 people, they say.

Others, understandably, wonder why they should cheer the consolidation of their profession: It’s like teachers boasting about larger class sizes, one beginning farm couple told me – it’s not in our interest.

I once published an image of a dairy display that touted how modern dairy barns protected animals from weather and disease. One reader questioned if I was implying his pastured cows were mistreated.

Then there is the debate about what type of agriculture can or can’t “feed the world.” As if that was something we should or could decide.

In Ohio alone, we have about 75,000 farmers – and as I see it, about 75,000 types of agriculture. Likewise, our state demands a food system that serves about 10 million types of eaters.

We have all heard the farm-circle debate: Is “conventional” agriculture our only hope of producing enough food, or is it depleting the resources it depends upon? Is “organic” agriculture a model of environmental harmony, or will it leave countless to starve?

Those questions ignore the fact that neither can feed “the world”, because the people who eat aren’t choosing just one or the other.  And farmers don’t decide what people eat, eaters do. Farmers give them options.

Just today, I purchased a serving of ultra-pasteurized milk in an anonymous paper carton.  Tonight, I’ll drink milk out of a mason jar straight from a cow named Claire outside my back door. And I’ll gladly spend my days helping a farmer friend share why he raises swine using all the modern trappings before heading home to my heritage herd of outdoor pigs.

Because, in the end, “agriculture” isn’t feeding “the world.” People are feeding people. Not “consumers,” individuals.

As John Steinbeck wrote: “When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking.”

That’s a problem because, in a changing world, sustainability hinges on our ability to adapt. So we need to expand our capacity to learn.

Agricultural critic Wendell Berry, while he infuriates as much as he inspires, gets it right in this passage:

“The most necessary thing in agriculture is not to invent new technologies or methods, not to achieve “breakthroughs,” but to determine what tools and methods are appropriate to specific people, places, and needs, and to apply them correctly. Application is the crux, because no two farms or farmers are alike; no two fields are alike…Application is the most important work, but also the most modest, complex, difficult, and long.”

Talking to each other would be a good start.

Seth Teter is an agricultural communicator at the Ohio Farm Bureau working to facilitate conversations at the intersection of food, agriculture and community.

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Does Media Shape Perception of Agriculture?

 

Media Makes The FarmIf 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.

 

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