This post was originally posted in Michele Payn-Knoper's Gate to Plate blog.
This was originally entitled “Isn’t it time we pull our heads out?” A close runner-up was “Your stubborness and independence may work on the farm – and put you out of business.” Professional discretion prevailed. However, it seems as though farmers and ranchers are never happy. And I’m not talking about the weather!
We first get mad when people “attack” agriculture. Then we thumb our noses at the “ignorant city people” who should know where their food comes from. And we grumble that we have to take the time to talk to these people when we’d rather be out with our land and animals. Usually somewhere in there is “someone else should be doing this for me – that’s why I pay check-off programs and my Farm Bureau membership.”
Territories develop, policy battles get in the way and the complexities of the agrifood system prevail. We get annoyed when these groups don’t represent every single practice exactly the way we want them to. It’s fair to say that an organization simply can’t tell YOUR story like you can – nor should they. However, we also complain that agriculture never works together – “it sure would be nice if the pork farmers would agree with corn farmers and those dairy people would get in line with the rest of us.”
After a lot of rhetoric and a few failed attempts, a variety of farm organizations finally pulled together the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance last year. So now farmers and ranchers are complaining that such a “large” organization can’t possibly represent ME because I farm _____. And how diverse is it anyhow – are you sure it includes what I do? And is it O.K. to work with such a big organization?
All of this leaves me a bit confused. This “big” organization was founded on farmer dollars and it’s working to have a conversation BIGGER than any of us as individuals. They are having town hall meetings with a variety of food folks, including chefs, mainstream media, academia and yes – even some people that you’d likely call a pundit. These food dialogues are designed to be a multi-faceted conversation and they’re happening in a way that you can participate virtually to ensure farmers are at the table. Why not join in on 9/22, submit questions and help answer questions about food?
No one can tell your agricultural story better than you. This effort won’t be perfect. You don’t have to agree with everything they’re doing. But doesn’t it make sense to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and pool our resources when there is only 1.5% in the U.S. population on a farm? Doesn’t it also make sense to approach this as a conversation instead of a battle? And shouldn’t it be more about the big picture than self-interests?
Just in case you’re wondering, nobody paid me to write this. After a decade of working with agricultural advocacy, I’ve heard thousands of complaints from farmers and ranchers across the U.S. and Canada. Frankly, it’s tiring. It’s time to round up the cattle, send them through the chute and get this job done. Either stop complaining or do something about it. I don’t see that we have any other choice. Do you?