A few days ago, I saw the movie Farmland, a documentary of 6 American farmers (both conventional and organic). The film could not possibly cover farming in just over an hour, but it brushed on an array of topics and the overlying theme demonstrated farmers’ willingness to talk. As Ryan, a hog farmer from Minnesota said, “We’re not hiding anything. What do you want to know?”
This is exactly the opening agriculture needs. Minority beliefs are speaking out on how food should be raised, and we need to give consumers access to all varieties of farmers for answers. Farmers certainly aren’t hiding anything, but there is a disconnect between consumers and food. Sometimes the disconnect is physical distance, but it also stems from America’s farmers comprising only 2% of the population. People simply don’t know a farmer. Couple this with myths in mainstream culture (such as the “gluten free” fad), many consumers’ sources of information are simply wrong. Finally, most farmers don’t have the time to walk around the grocery store and engage in conversation, or attend conventions.
So how can we do this, without spending too much time away from the farm? My suggestion is simple: 1) kids, 2) tours, 3) EXPLAIN IN A RELATE-ABLE WAY. Reaching out to the younger generation, especially families, allows people to connect with animals and understand agriculture processes. I was lucky enough to use a university setting for several years and brought many friends and city kids out to see what a cow looks like.
(Showing my cousin the cows).
I understand that not everyone has access to this. But photos and videos go a long way (especially if you have images of baby animals!) I also understand the hesitancy to bring someone to your farm. Inviting them for a meal and walking through safe areas (feed manager areas, outside calf pens) can be the easiest if you want to avoid a naughty cow causing trouble. Or you can be like the Peterson Brothers and open up for official tours!
My other concern is trying to give TOO MUCH information. Stick with simple facts and always emphasize animal care. Stick with examples they can relate to. Many misconceptions come from “standard” animal care procedures – dehorning, castration, etc. Explain that much science backs these procedures, but they are always evolving.
My new example when people ask me about dehorning, or any animal process, really: We believe a small amount of pain now is worth a lifetime of safety and better health. Think about kids: we often take out their tonsils, put tubes in their ears, pull teeth, and so many other things, so that they have a healthier life! Same concept! Removing horns improves the animals’ safety and ours.
A conversation is just beginning. Write a letter to the editor of a local paper, or see if you can spend an hour of a rainy day talking in a grade school class. I didn’t come from a farm, but I hope I can help you fight for a voice for yours.