The FOOD DIALOGUES : What’s the point?

Starting with the disclaimer.  I currently serve on the board and was a founding farmer of the AgChat Foundation.  We recently announced at partnership with USFRA, so it’s possible that some would consider me a bit biased on this topic.  I’ll put this disclaimer at the top so that if you feel that way you can save yourself the few minutes of reading this blog post and move on.

Secondly, I’m really writing to my fellow farmers here, if you don’t fit that description, this post really isn’t for you.  Unfortunately I can’t (yet) share this post with JUST my farmer friends, so I can only ask you, if you do not consider yourself a farmer or rancher, to read at your own risk.

Now that we got rid of the crowd, for the two of you that are left we’re going to just have a “pull back the curtains and peek behind the scenes look” at the upcoming Food Dialogues.

First, this is “big business”.  Big as in there’s lots of people involved, big as in there is even more money involved.  It’s not cheap, nor easy to pull off an effort like this.  As a farmer, it can be frustrating.  There’s times I’ve wondered why things are done the way they are, why it takes so much planning, coordination, why stuff doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.  Even though I have wondered in the past if I have become “Big Ag”,  there’s really only three other people I have to work with as we make decisions on our farm.  There’s over twice that many people on the AgChat Foundation board, and we are the tiny organization with the small role in this effort.  That’s a very different environment than I (and I suspect many of you) am used to working in.

But before I go any further, I want to switch gears a bit:

A combine?   Really?

Yes, a combine, it is harvest time after all for many of you, and I want you to stop and consider a couple of things.  Whether you buy one or multiple of these every year, or whether you are like me and can only afford the used versions after someone else has put many  hours on them, it’s easy for most farmers to smile and look at that picture as one of the joys of farming.

What does that combine cost?  Almost scary isn’t it?, $300,000 probably won’t buy it.  What do you think your non-farm neighbors think of that combine?  Well, I’ll offer a few suggestions from things I’ve seen in recent times:

1)  Their driving down the freeway, the glance over at you harvesting that patch of corn, they see mostly a cloud of dust.   And you assume those dust control recommendations came from some mindless bureaucrat at EPA.

2)  Worse, they come up behind you on a busy, narrow two lane road.  Having to follow this slow lumbering giant makes them three minutes later for work, and they hate you a little for it.

3)  They remember their favorite uncle, telling them about the very first combine he owned, that 55 John Deere, they buy the food they can afford at the local farmers market, and the rest at Walmart.  And they have NO idea that there is actually a connection between that uncle, what they eat, and that current fancy looking beast of a machine dumping yellow stuff in an equally huge tractor and grain cart as it slowly moves through the field.

You see, most people today do not see your farm as a necessary component to their daily lives.  Oh yea, we can rightfully claim we feed the world.  We can talk about how 1 farmer now feeds a hundred people or whatever the latest stat is, but that’s fairly meaningless.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma is just as if not a more credible source to most people, and from it they believe your growing corn is pretty much destroying everything that matters, from basic morality to the environment they hope to leave for their kids.

Whatever your specific feelings, USFRA is a coalition of ag groups whose mission it is to lead a dialogue about what you really do out on the farm today.  It’s far from perfect, I’ve seen enough of the insides to wonder if I couldn’t just do it better/cheaper myself.  If your honest, as a farmer, most of you would have some of those same thoughts.  We’d probably both be more wrong than we’d like to admit.

I don’t know how “successful” the event on Thursday will be.  There’s a huge amount of technology that needs to work, massive event coordination efforts, all of which needs to come together and just happen.  I’m not even sure some of the fundamental decisions about how to have a dialogue of this nature match up well with what we’ve learned through social media the last couple of years. (but that’s redundant, I already said I think I could do it better!)  I do know this, the 22nd is but one small step on this journey, and it will be most successful ONLY if it leads to increased dialogue among all farmers.  Dialogue of understanding the diversity in agriculture – that would be your organic neighbor,  the neighbor that owns five of the above combines who you struggle with being jealous of, the much smaller neighbor who actually runs a JD 55 combine (yes, he used to work for me, bought two of them actually – one for parts!), or even the kinda quaky neighbor I have that tried to grow cotton in northeast Kansas, Imagine!

But that Dialogue extends far behind agriculture.  It extends to your city “neighbors” as well, as the AgChat Foundation, we’re focused on “empowering farmers and ranchers… through social media…”  It’s the specific focus of our organization, and with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google+, and whatever hot new social network gets announced next week, its a big task.  Yet it’s only a small part of the whole though, there’s a lot of offline dialogue that needs to take place as well.  Some of you excel at speaking engagements, for others you work in the classroom telling the ag story, there’s those that answer questions at grocery stores, or as you interact in your hometown.  There’s so many ways a few folks are sharing the ag message, helping a public far removed from daily life on the farm learn how food is raised today.  Will you join them?  Will you find your niche?  I hope so!

PS.  Oh, and a final thought on that $300,000 combine.  I suspect the Food Dialogues in a couple of days will wind up costing a lot more than that.  And that’s your money, it comes from the check-off fees, the membership dues, the various ways you financially support all the organizations that are part of USFRA.  However, consider this, a huge benefit of working together is your individual contribution to the effort amounts to a bit of pocket change, probably less than you would spend on a can of soda at a vending machine.  To me, not a bad investment.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by howard on October 16, 2011 at 7:08 am

    As I believe they,the real farmers, still occasionally say with a song in their voices upon greeting each other, “Howdy!”. I responded a few days ago to your request for dialog. I believe you may have responded to me with a comment regarding big vs small AG farm intent and/or practices. If that had me in mind, you were exactly right. I have NO idea what the real differences would be. I do know that I find your writing very compelling and earnest in its purpose. I can’t say as I’ve ever had the opportunity to communicate with a farmer under these circumstances. I actually imagine you out their riding row after row on some huge, lumbering tractor-like machine that harvest crops, shines the leaves, or does things to the dirt most of us could only imagine with each pass. As I stated prior, I have never been more than a gardner, but have lived within farming communities. I could leave at 6:30am for my job, and see the same piece of equipment doing whatever it was doing as I came home from picking up my scout after their weekly meeting ends at 10:00pm. Headlights and floodlights at full throttle out in some different area of the HUGE farm.

    I say all of that to ask, should I even try to participate in this conversation? Again, I found it really struck a nerve with me. It reminded me of many friendships I’ve enjoyed over the years with real farmers. I used to go help a dairy farmer who I would guess milked a thousand cows a day. He got up at 3:30am for the first milking and eat breakfast, a LARGE breakfast by 8am. He worked every day – all day – and finished the second milking sometime long after dark. 7 days a week. And he was continually looking that 366th day of the year so he could finally get a day off. I would just show up to see him and walk or ride along so we could talk and share. I helped in whatever way I was capable of. I was forever fascinated at his life. We were young, in our twenties. 35 years ago. I remember his farm being equipped with automatic feeding stations where each cow wore a radio collar of some sort and when it stuck his/her head in to eat, a computer would identify that specific cow and know whether it was allowed to eat again, and/or if it had some special feed mix or medicine and if it all added up, within seconds the different required pellets filled the bin, as the cow was weighed and fed the exact required amount and mixture. Even then, and still today, I find that one of the most amazing and practical applications of technology within 25 feet from a HUGE manure pond that was washed from that same feeding paddock. Just amazing to me.

    So, I was interested to communicate with real farmers, I guess I always have been, when I came across your blog. Having given you some background, again I ask, is their a spot for me to participate, or maybe to just come and read but not post?

    I really appreciated your homemade jewelry offer and would love to give it to the most beautiful woman on earth, which is why I replied to begin with. But, I find myself very motivated to come back to see any responses as I guess I am just fascinated and deeply appreciative of what our farmers really do. I do not want to waste your time, but I can post from a very experienced eater’s viewpoint!

    So, good luck to you. Thank you for what you do for everyone else on planet earth. If I can add something to your efforts I would consider it an honor and a privilege. Likewise, if you feel this is not the place for my thoughts and/or comments and questions, I would respectfully stop immediately.



    • Howard Your always welcome to share your thoughts here.. That’s what a blog is about after all, dialogue! I’m intrigued by your experiences with farming/farmers, and your thoughts. Feel free to continue to comment on this blog, or email me at daringrimm at gmail dot com


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