I get this question at least once a week – “so doc, why are you going to a farm bureau meeting? Don’t they sell insurance?”
For those of you who may have not read much of this blog, you may not know, that I am not a traditional American Farmer. I was raised the granddaughter of a county vet in a rural community. I did not grow up in FFA, farm bureau, or, outside of speech competitions, in 4-H. Yet, most of my free time now is spent on our farm, learning about better/more efficient methods of farming, how to connect to the American Consumer about food production, learning how to improve my heard genetics, and numerous other issues that relate to farming, specifically beef cattle. (Well, in a sidebar now, my free time is spent being a Mom to three busy growing kids. Don’t get me wrong, I am still quite passionate about American Agriculture, but its hard to find the time to speak out about it as much when I am raising three kids and working full time.)
As a sidebar, I would like to point out most American farmers no longer resemble what the average American thinks a traditional farmer looks like. We don’t wear straw hats and overalls (unless we want too). Most farmers that I know have college degrees and run business plans that give me a headache. They have equipment that most people could not even begin to turn on. They use environmental impact plans, deal with increasingly difficult government regulations, and put in longer hours than I do as a rural doctor. They put up with negative public perceptions, and are labeled by certain movements as being cruel, have been perceived as being overly concerned about their incomes, and are all part of factory farms and big business.
So, now back to my original question… why do I – a family practice physician (OK again some updating – its 2017 and now I work full time in the ED at a local hospital – gave up the office years ago) who comes from a nontraditional agriculture background, spend so much of my free time (and trust me – I don’t get a lot of this) volunteering my time to work with both the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Tennessee Farm bureau Federation to spread the story of American Agriculture? And I don’t get to spend so much time with FB anymore either – see I have “aged out” of Young Farmer’s and Ranchers program – I guess your not “young” once your 40, but again – I am too busy now raising three kids who are being quite active in ag themselves.
For those of you that don’t realize Farm Bureau (the federation) is not the insurance company. It was started nearly over 100 years ago in New York as a grass roots organization to provide support for American Agriculture. The federation meets at the local county level, through the district level, then at the state, and then even at the National Level to represent issues that affect modern agriculture.
Here is my answer, 16 years ago, I was the average American. I never thought or cared about where my food came from. I listened to every little snippet and bit of hearsay on TV and in magazines and got my food information there. I just knew that organic was better, and free range was the way of the future for beef production, and I refused to eat a genetically modified anything. After all, I was smart, a college educated pre-med female on her way. Then, I met then man that has made me a better woman in so many ways.
My husband never demanded that I become involved on our farm. He and his family have been farmers in upper middle Tennessee since the mid 1800’s. They have raised hay, beef, and tobacco. Their last tobacco crop bought my engagement ring. But, by his quiet example, his love of our land, and our animals, I began to see what agriculture really involves and means to the men and women that provides the food, fuel, and fiber for me and the rest of America.
Gradually, I began attending Farm Bureau meetings with him at the county, district, and state levels. I remember my first fall tour, I met so many interesting, motivated Agriculturist that trip. (And I got to eat some really great Tennessee products) People who had their passion for agriculture as a defining movement in their life. By my meeting these friends, and seeing their operations across our state, and even across the nation, my outlook about Agriculture has changed.
Brian and I have been blessed to be involved in Farm Bureau from a county to a national level. We have been state winners and National Top Ten winners, but nothing has made me prouder than when I am able to stand and relate to people about the farming practices we engage in our farm. And, I am proud to say that we are raising grass fed, grain finished beef. (Still am happy about this).
Helping to show our shared values in regards to herd health, environmental concerns, and animal welfare, either in person or via social media has been some of the most rewarding encounters that I have had. Being known as a farmer, an American registered angus producer, is also (after being a Mom) my favorite title.
I know now that in order for my children to be able to farm like the 6 generations of McLerran’s have before them, I must choose to be involved in agriculture. And I realize that this choice, by its definition will cost me, some free time, some travel, some personal involvement, and some time away from those that are the most precious to me.
I want to be able to encourage others to step up and connect on a personal level with agriculturist and consumers about their concerns over food safety, where their food comes from, animal well fare concerns, etc.
The best thing about America is the freedom of speech and the hardest thing about America is the freedom of speech, especially when the speech involves such different view points as currently exist in America today.