As I’ve been going through a couple of classes, I’ve been trying to integrate what I’m learning into some blog posts. What I am discovering is rather disturbing and alarming in some respects.
My question goes out to all those farmers out there: If you are sharing what you do, are you doing with transparency and communication or are you just telling people what you do and then dictating to them what’s okay and what isn’t?
Many farmers I know aren’t afraid to hold an open discussion with a back and forth dialogue with consumers (or customers of food, if that suits better). Sometimes, we stumble upon that one person with a great deal of practical knowledge that offers advice in a reasonable and sensible manner. Do we listen? Most of the time, the answer is a big, fat NO. Don’t get mad before you hear me out, please.
As a farmer, I also have the tendency to immediate jump when someone gives me any advice because they don’t know my specific circumstance or my mission for the future on my farm. While I am sharing my story, I’m not listening to comments with much more than a grain of salt because… well, let’s be honest here: very few people in today’s society are farmers and how could someone outside of farming possibly know what I’m dealing with? Over the years, I’ve learned just how wrong that assumption can be.
Why am I bringing this up? People have real fears and concerns today when it comes to the production of their food. People have the same access to internet and teachings that we do. Maybe they don’t know each specific detail about something you do, but they do have an idea of what they would like to see in the ways of humane treatment, environmental concerns and more. I bet there are farmers reading this right now saying that “It’s because they have listened to non-sense, non-scientific data” and immediately slam the proverbial internet door in someone’s face. If you were never told what ASSUME means, let me explain. My high school history teacher told me that “To assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”
It’s not just farmers that need to stop assuming either. It’s the customer and consumer. Only a fraction of the farmers out there should be classified as bad farmers. Lumping us all together is hurtful and unproductive. I know I hate the word “factory farming”… what does it even mean anyway? If I had 100 cows, would I be a factory farm? How about 1,000? Does anything else I do matter? Here’s an example I want you to think about: One farmer milks a 1,000 dairy cows in a freestall barn and let’s his/her cows out to pasture for roughly 18 hours a day. Another farmer raises 1,000 steers on 2,000 acres of pasture. Why is one a factory farm and the other isn’t?
Farmers are trying to tell their stories, showing how animals are cared for and how well they are treated. I will again and again express to you that EVERY FARM is DIFFERENT! It’s a huge load of factors from taxes, land, water and food availability, environment, buildings, equipment, manpower and overall knowledge that determines what farms become. Texas farmers and ranchers to things very differently than ones in Vermont, Colorado, California, and every other state. Farmers aren’t behind a desk, depositing money in armored trucks to the bank and we must continue to learn more and more.
Without communication and transparency by all parties, farmers and consumers alike, we don’t know the whole story or situation. I know I don’t want to be judged the same as a farmer that doesn’t give 100% compassion and care to his/her animals. I encourage you to talk to local farmers, even farmers talking with other farmers. I encourage you to talk to your consumer/customer about their fears and concerns WITHOUT dictating to them.
I am open about 99% of the happenings here on the farm. The one percent that I don’t is the struggles about finances, the tears I shed or the sleep I lose over battles on hard choices that have to be made. If you would all like me to begin journaling and discussing that too, I will. Especially if it helps you to see and understand how hard this life is on many different levels. I’ve shared the good days and the bad (we have way more good days). It’s not easy for any farmer to lay themselves out there to the public. We are fairly private people but we also know that our consumers honestly want to know more about what we do. I know that I also look forward to conversations with consumers because I’m a firm believer that perspectives matter.
I’m just a small time operator but that doesn’t mean that I don’t give 100% to what I do either. One cow or a thousand, each still requires the same work and care. That’s not something that is going to change here. It’s the root of who I am as a person. I’ll listen and discuss anything with anyone at anytime. Just please don’t ask me to do a halal butcher on my beloved cattle… morally, I can’t do it. If you want to know why, ask and I will gladly share the horrifying experience.
We all need to be more open minded and learn from each other. In closing, just give what I’m saying some thought. Stop the bashing and hate, start building bridges.