For those of you that know me, you may wonder why a full time family physician and mother of three spends so much time talking about and “AGVOCATING” for agriculture. To answer that I will one, refer you to the page on the blog : Farming, why or why not, and two I will tell you a story about myself and my encounter with a rare, endangered species.
That may seem funny or a bit extreme to you but less than 2% of Americans farm today, and the average age of America’s farmers, over 55. Add these facts to escalating land prices, estate taxes, higher input cost for start up farmers, occasional run-ins with animal rights or environmental groups, no job security, no health insurance, and miss-perceptions about common farming practices among general consumers, leads to a difficult work environment. Also, most Americans are 4 generations removed from day to day life on a farm. Yes, that includes people in rural America. They may be rural, but that doesn’t mean they live on a working farm or ranch.
Hence, my designation of the American farmer as an endangered species, and ranchers should be listed as critically endangered. But unlike most endangered species here in America, we are neither seeking to protect or conserve this valuable resource.
Farmers are good for their communities by increasing trade and providing revenue at the county, state, and national level. Farmers are concerned with their environment. They love their lands. Many farmers today are working the same lands that their fathers, grand-fathers, and generations before them worked. They consider themselves the “original environmentalist”, and can tell you stories involving their lands that go back generations. If you have never met or spoken with the men and women of agriculture in this country their is no way that I can begin to explain to you their love of their land. This love of the land goes far beyond the wordy concerns of the EPA because the ebb and flow of the streams and soil are as much a part of their bones and blood as any other part that makes them a FARMER. LOVE OF THEIR LAND AND PASSION FOR THEIR FARM IS A DEFINING PART OF THE AMERICAN FARMER. The soil between their hands, the crops they raise, or the animals they steward defines them, and has for generations.
So, now I will tell you my story.
It’s starts with me being just like most of you, not knowing anything about agriculture or caring for that matter. I went to the store and the food was there. I bought certified organic most of the time because that was “better for me”. I don’t know to this day why I thought that but I did.
Then, I met and began dating my husband. He is a quite man. Never forcing his opinions on others. He prefers, like many in agriculture, to lead by example. (Which is why in my option it is easier to run all over them on social media and the news. If you only ever see the bad apples, it is easy to think that the entire industry is made up of bad apples). We began dating and in a little over a year we were married and off to the city so I could go to medical school. He took a teaching job, working 12-13 hour days to keep the bills paid and food on the table. He had to listen to me B&:#! and whine (sometimes for hours) when he needed to go back home to the farm to breed cows or cut hay. Some times he left farm chores undone altogether instead of listening to me fuss.
I am ashamed of myself when I think of all he was giving up to let me get an education and of how little he ask for in return. Still I made his job a bitter one and harder than it needed to be. So, for four years our farm ran down a bit. (My in-laws are older and my father-in-law has a visual impairment that prevents him from doing many things so if my husband does not do for the farm, it is not done)
Then, residency training came along. My husband began to sweat bullets when I dreamed of training in places like Wyoming or Rome, Georgia. Although, true to his nature, he was supportive of my decisions, but he was in severe inner turmoil. How would his farm survive three years with him in another state? The Lord works in wondrous ways because through a family member, I learned of a rural training program in Glasgow, KY, that would be perfect for me. (Really, that was all I worried about, “Was this good for me?” I was such a selfish little twit…) So, the next three years were spent 30 minutes from the farm. Easier for my husband but still a lot of nagging on my part.
It was during those three years of residency that I began to ask questions about farming and why “that damn farm” was so important. And I had grown up enough to begin to listen. Residency was coming to and end, and we began planning on where to practice and live.
Neither one of us are very adventurous, I work in the same office with the doctor that I have had since I was seven. I made a deal with Brian, if I could work in my home town he could be a full time farmer with his Dad on their sixth generation beef farm. (More me…) That first fall we were home, Brian begged me into going with him on a fall tour for the young farmer and rancher program in our state. He had been involved in YF&R since the age of 18 in Clay county where he grew up. Even served on the board but then he met me with my opinions like “that damned farm” and he stopped going. I’ll even admit that once I told him he did not have a profession that is how stupid and stuck-up I was about farming.
That fall tour changed my life and my ill formed opinions about agriculture. I met real people who still farmed. I tasted food grown on those farms and heard from the famers themselves, and I wanted to know more about this thing they were calling agriculture. I made friends and began to ask questions. Before I knew it, I was serving on the state YF&R committee, traveling the country, Tweeting, blogging, and defending American Agriculture at the top of my voice, because these are good people, a true endangered species.
They are under constant regulations from the government, harassment by both media and special rights groups, and under pressures from the consumer to do more with less and make it cheaper. For the most part they go about doing these task willing, cheerfully, and with a purpose that seems to me God given. No, they are not all perfect. Yes, as in any industry there are opportunities for improvement, but as a whole, no matter what part of the country I have traveled to, I have not met a more open helpful group of men and women dedicated to their careers, their country, their communities, their faiths, and their families.
I personally think America would be a better place if we all had a little more farmer ethics down in our soul.
They truly only want to be able to pass this lifestyle and land that they all love down to their sons and daughters.
Americans, as one who once was one of you, I am pleading with you, American agriculture is full of good honest men and women who truly want to feed you and your family. They raise and eat what they are sending out to feed you. I understand your concerns about hormones, pesticides, organic farming, but I am here to tell you with the current population growth there is no way without the utilization of GMO/biotech crops (which are tested and retested at the federal, state, and company level before we ever see them) and use of both traditional, nonorganic agriculture (ie round up ready plants and spraying for bugs) we can ever feed the world’s growing hungry population.
If organic, non GMO is for you and your family, fine, but please don’t be willing to blame and industry full of men and women like my husband who with their quiet love of their land, don’t lend themselves to confrontation. And, please just because you know what is right for you and your family, don’t presume you have the right to dictate an entire industry’s business practices for everyone else’s family choice.
Life is about choices. And around 10 years ago, which was 5 years after I married him, I began to understand the importance of agriculture to both my family and the world, thereby CHANGING my choice to a more informed decision about agriculture. But how many Americans don’t get the chance to know a farmer like I do? I would ask that the next time you feel emphatic about an issue related to agriculture, make sure you have asked someone who makes their living in agriculture to get the facts strait. You might have to look hard though to find them. Endangered species after all can be hard to find.
If we don’t embrace and protect our American farmer, as we would any other endangered species, who is going to be there in 30 years when this generation is extinct?