Good morning, as outlined in my biography, I grew up on my family’s farm in Vermont. I love Vermont because of the state’s agricultural diversity. It is not uncommon for city folk to move to Vermont to start a farm.
One of my earliest memories is of a life-long city man, tired of the rat race, decided he was going to give up the city life, move to the country, and become a chicken farmer. He bought a nice, used chicken farm and moved in. As it turned out, his next door neighbor, my father also raised chickens. My dad went to visit the new neighbor and told the new neighbor that, “Chicken farming isn’t easy and to help you get started, I’ll give you 100 chickens.”
The new chicken farmer was thrilled. Two weeks later dad dropped by to see how things were going. The new farmer said, “Not too well. All 100 chickens died.” My dad said, “Oh, I can’t believe that. I’ve never had any trouble with my chickens. I’ll give you 100 more.” Another two weeks went by and dad stopped by again. The new farmer said, “You’re not going to believe this, but the second 100 chickens died too.” Astounded, dad asked, “What went wrong?”
The new farmer said, “Well, I’m not sure whether I’m planting them too deep or too close together.” These and other stories fostered today’s speech…
Recently, I served on a panel discussing the past, present, and future of dairy farming. The seminar was sponsored by a nonagricultural foundation and a nonagricultural college. One of the panelists authored the book, Changing Works: Visions of a Lost Agriculture; while another authored, Milk Money and the Death of the Family Dairy Farm. I proudly rose to the occasion of accepting the opportunity to serve on the panel. I did my research. Yes, I was going to set the record straight. Agriculture is not lost and the family farm is not dyeing. Sadly, I was proven wrong. Within the eyes of a society that is 3rd generation (equating to 100 years removed) from agriculture, it is lost and the traditional family farm is dying.
Allow me to explain, I filled my presentation with many economic and scientific facts and even a few emotion.
• In New York State, dairy farming and manufacturing contributes in excess of $8.9 billion dollars to New York’s economy annually.
• Through genetic improvement and scientific based feeding farmers are obtaining more milk per cow (state average exceeds 20,000 pounds per cow, up from 9,700 pounds in 1970).
• Many farmers have welcomed the international community from Mexico and Guatemala to their labor force. Many of these workers are earning in excess of $40,000 a year not including their housing.
• Other farmers are marketing their superior genetics, shipping embryos and seman around the world. And because I was speaking mostly to a mostly non-farm audience, I clarified that the embryos are from cows and seman from bulls, not humans.
• I discussed that our farm families are doing this all in the name of providing the US and global consumer with a high quality, low cost food product. I even reminded the audience that here in the US, consumers spend less than 10% of their income on food vs. 30% in other developed nations.
I assured the audience that every decision, is made with the consumer, the environment, the cows, and the ‘kids’ meaning the next generation in mind – yes, my family’s greatest accomplishment is that we produced the hope for a 7th generation at our family’s farm, established in 1856.
While I spoke about the economics of our amazing industry, my counter parts spoke about the moral economy and the importance of community in the farming contexts. They spoke about the importance of finding a balance between farmers and their community, farmers and the animals, farmers and ecology, farmers and corporate interests, farmers and labor (immigration and farm workers’ rights), globalization of food, and the relationship we have with our food. One speaker asked, “Will we look back on our current dairy practices and question the ethics of how we treated animals?”
The real learning experience came during the question and answer period, which was hijacked by those who oppose hydrolic fracking and those who do not agree with the way milk is priced. Everyone wanted to voice their opinion about the past, present, and future of agriculture, leaving both the agricultural and nonagricultural audience wondering, who has and who should have the authority to speak about agriculture and the food system?
Those involved in agriculture left the seminar amazed and bit appalled by the lack of respect and understanding for agriculture? How could the consumer not know that dairy farming as a whole has become big business focused on margins and sustainability? How could the consumer not know that our family farm business expansions, food quality, and initiatives to increase efficiencies are all practices that benefit them? Some in agriculture stated that agriculture is not lost, the consumer is lost.
Ironically, those not involved in agriculture, left the room amazed and somewhat appalled by the lack of respect and understanding of the consumers’ view point. The seminar made me realize how important it is that we raise a generation excited about taking over the family farm and or choose careers in agriculture.
Later that night, I posted a note on my FB page – ‘Can you please communicate the advice you gave your children (or was given to you) about returning to the family business and or pursuing a career in agriculture or what did you learn on the farm that encouraged you to pursue your current career?
Of course, I got the ‘wise guy/gal’ comments.
• My favorite was – don’t throw large flat stones….into fresh cow pies! I am pretty
sure all of you know the result.
Friends of agriculture listed many common themes, work ethic with commitment and responsibility, education- the importance to do well. The opportunities are endless, set goals, reach goals and set them again, dream and you can make your dreams a reality, be passionate about what you want to do and are doing, and accept the ups and downs in life. Give back and also to take the time to have fun in life (thank you Barbara Ziemba-great response)
Reading the comments caused a light to go on, ah—it is the qualities of a farmer that are lost in society, it is not agriculture that is lost. So, I researched qualities of a farmer. And here is what I found:
Of the 16 identified personality traits, farmers possess 5, all telling of the true depth of those involved in agriculture.
A capacity for hard work and perseverance
• (Conscientious personality style);
Autonomy, capacity to make decisions
• (Vigilant personality style);
Great capacity to cope with adversity
• (Serious personality style);
Comfort with solitude meaning fully self-contained,
• (Solitary personality style); -
Comfort with a small circle of friends, with little need for company
• (Sensitive personality)
Based on 16 years of marriage to a farmer, I decided to add one of my own
• (I am have been told my husband is not a statistical outlier)
My mind then turned to how do we instill the values, entrepreneurial mindset, decision making ability, appreciation for nature, and the risk taking adversity of farmers into society? Through further research I found the answer – planting a garden. Yes, everyone, you woke up early for me to communicate something that you already know, plant a garden, but not just any garden, a community garden.
Community gardens build individuals, social groups, an appreciation for the natural environment and an understanding of who food is grown. Community gardens present a promising method of enhancing the well-being and resilience of individuals, communities, and the natural environment. It appears that in order bring our society back to the roots of what we in agriculture believe in and the qualities that farmers possess we must engage the consumer in the roots.
There are other initiatives taking place here in NYS that bring the consumer and farmer together. This past summer New York’s animal agricultural coalition https://www.facebook.com/NYAnimalAg hosted a birthing center at the NYS fair. Jessica Ziehm, the organization’s Executive Director estimated the exhibit received about 60,000 visitors over a 12 day period. The goal of the birthing center is and was to enhance the understanding of modern agriculture – with a slogan of -there’s no udder place for the answers, ask a farmer.
Consumers watched in awe and producers had never been more proud of their industry – with one producer stating, I pulled a shift at the state fair in the birthing tent, ”I Got to talk to old, young, foreign, city, and country folks about dairy farms and cows. Hands down the most rewarding day I have ever had in this business.” According to Ziehm, baby calves were born, farmers were heard, and consumers listened. It was a trifecta for a perfect dairy public relations event.
Before I show you a video of the birth center, I will introduce NY agri-women member Julie Patterson, a sponsor of the event and a farm participant with the birthing center. Click here for the video: http://animoto.com/play/eEyCXNT0oogN7UkSowFBwQ
With the help of a seemingly innocent panel at a nonagricultural liberal arts college, community gardens, and the NY Animal Agricultural Coalition, many of us have come to realize that society is not lost and agriculture is not lost, but we are lost without each other.
Zoellner, Jamie,PhD., R.D., Zanko, A., M.S., Price, B., Bonner, J., & Hill, J. L., PhD. (2012). Exploring community gardens in a health disparate population: Findings from a mixed methods pilot study. Progress in Community Health Partnerships, 6(2), 117-65. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1032533944?accountid=27965
Shrapnel, Davie and Frank (2000). UQ study examines farmers’ personality profiles.