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:
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.