Growing up on my family farm, I was taught the importance of agriculture from an early age. Being surrounded by it and living in a primarily agriculture community, I always assumed that everyone else knew general farming practices. Upon coming to Western Illinois University as an agriculture student, I assumed I’d mostly have classes with other students who had the same passion that I did (which I mostly did). But of course I had to take those pesky general courses and I got to meet people from all over, with a lot of different backgrounds. Now I knew that not everyone grew up in a rural community, but for the first time I truly got to experience just how different others opinions and ideas of farming were.
My junior year I took a speech class and we had to form groups in which we all had to get to know one another. We talked about the typical topics like where we were from and what our majors were. One student, who was from downtown Chicago, could not believe that I actually grew up on a farm. She exclaimed, “Wow, so do you like grow your own food and stuff?” I told her that, no, I bought my food from the grocery store just like her. I explained that we had corn and soybean fields, and that we raised cattle. She then asked me if I had to milk the cows, again I replied no, and explained that we didn’t have to do that because they are beef, not dairy cattle. I then discussed the differences between them. Part of me couldn’t believe that someone in higher education did not know some of these things but then it occurred to me, how would she know? Without having visited a farm, or been taught in school, there is a good chance you might not know where your food comes from.
So often I have heard that “people are so far removed from the farm” and this phrase could not be more true. The United States generally lives in an urban society and many people may have not seen a farm first hand. The only images they receive are the ones that the media has presented to them. The media sometimes portrays farmers in a negative way that scares consumers to believe that they don’t consider the safety of the food they produce, which is far from the truth. The United States has a population of 319 million people with only 2% of that population consisting of farmers and ranchers. That 2% has a big job of feeding an increasing population and these “farm folk” take a lot of pride in the work they do. Around 97% of US farms are operated by families, family partnerships, or family corporations. Generation after generation has provided food to this world and have been lucky enough to have advanced in so many ways. As a person with a passion for agriculture, I have come to find that it is our jobs as agriculturists to share our experiences and knowledge to those that may not know. We must advocate or shall I say, agvocate for agriculture.
What can we do?
A LOT! There are so many ways to promote agriculture and help consumers distinguish the myths from reality. When discussing these things with consumers it is very important not to argue but instead listen to their concerns. Not everyone is going to agree with what you have to say but it is extremely important to be professional when stating your side.
Social media is another great way to share your story. Post photos or videos of your daily life to show people exactly what you do. Visit your local farm bureau or other organizations to learn and participate in agriculture promotional events.
As a consumer, it is great to ask questions about where your food comes from and the process of how it was grown and raised. In fact, please ask questions! Farmers and other members of the agriculture community love to talk about what they do. Do not believe everything you hear on TV;instead visit a farm, go to a community lecture, or read an agriculture based article. Find out for yourself!
Check out some of these links for more agriculture information!
My name is Shelbie Blackburn and I am currently studying Ag Business with a minor in communication. I grew up in Schuyler County, IL, on my family’s row crop and cattle farm. Upon coming to Western Illinois University I became involved with the AgVocators, Agriculture Council, Sigma Alpha(Professional Agriculture Sorority), Collegiate Farm Bureau, and the Ag Mech Club. After graduation in December, I look forward to continuing advocating for agriculture in my future endeavors. If you have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading, God Bless!