The following was written by Nina Ferretti, she has compelling comments I would like to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading.
Most people in the agricultural industry already know that we comprise less than 2% of the entire population of the United States. We know that each of us roughly feeds 155 people. Many of us have asked people “where does your food come from?” and are pained when the answer is something along the lines of “the store.” Never mind those of us who have opened our farms and homes to agritourists and elementary school field trips who have regularly found ourselves suppressing a cringe or the desire to scream when a child asks “where’s the salsa tree?”
Salsa tree??? What, kid?! What are they teaching you in these schools? What is wrong with your parents?
Why, other than because they’re flat out wrong, do comments and questions like these pain us so? Maybe because it is our lives that we have devoted to the soil, the land, the plants, and the animals. We often build our homes and have spent our entire lives on our piece of dirt. We have grown up here, raised families here, and, quite possibly, over time we have poured literally as much of our blood, sweat, and tears on to it as we have in us.
As humans, we need to realize that they come from a completely different world. Recall that urban sprawl we are so concerned about. They live in the middle of that. No rolling hills with grazing cattle or sheep or neat rows of crops for as far as the eye can see for them. Have you ever seen a grown adult who is seeing cotton for the first time? What about the lightbulb going off when they make the connection with that and the clothes that they are wearing? They lead completely different lives with completely different concerns. They (gasp) know nothing about the farming practices which sustain them. Coincidentally those are the same farming practices on which they are asked to vote.
Indeed, the uneducated consumer is put in a position on a regular basis to make decisions on OUR livelihood. In many cases they make our lives harder based on a small kernel of information that they got off of some piece of propaganda. In this world of fear-based marketing, they know not what they do.
Cut to the old men at the coffee shop, the women at the latest fundraiser, the FFA students at a community event, even the well-meaning industry professionals. I have been present time and again when we are all talking about the need to educate the public. But when the time comes to educate the public, instead of going to the masses, we preach to the choir.
It is easy to speak to others in the industry because they are the ones who are receptive to the message. There isn’t a whole lot of challenging going on. The energy, while it feels as if it is building in these conversations, is a waste. It’s like leaving the lights on when you leave the room. Nothing other than our own egos benefit from complaining to each other.
Agriculturalists need to get out there and have the hard conversations. Especially California’s agriculturalists. Why?
According to the 2010 census, of the most populous cities of the nation, #2 Los Angeles, #8 San Diego, #10 San Jose. A total of seventeen California cities are listed in the top 100. The second most populous state in the nation, Texas, has almost 12 million fewer people than California. Just to shed some light on the situation, 44 out of 50 states have a population smaller than the size of that 12 million person gap.
One more number for you: 36,508,876. If we go by that commonly known agricultural statistic that at most only 2% of the population are farmers, then there are at least thirty six million five hundred eight thousand eight hundred seventy six people in this state alone who are partially if not completely removed from the production of their food, fiber, and lumber. Some know absolutely nothing about it. Yet, here’s the kicker, they are asked to vote on production practices; often on a yearly basis.
The result is that California’s agricultural industry is the most regulated in the nation. The scary fact is that there is a growing trend of businesses, agricultural or not, leaving the state for greener pastures. Production costs are on the rise, largely due to the votes of an uneducated public.
It’s time for agriculturalists to break out of their comfort zone or draw people into it. It’s true, dealing with a public different than yourself is difficult. Different views require different approaches and infinite patience when communicating. Let’s face it, as a people, we are not good at speaking with the public. If we were, this problem would not have escalated this far.
Agriculturalists must seek new information in order to learn to communicate with the public and learn to disseminate information in a way that they can understand. We have long been stewards of the land and now we must be stewards of our profession.
Yes, there is a new, larger crop of agricultural communicators entering the workforce, but these degree programs are in embarrassingly limited supply in California. In fact, they are only in the developmental stages and there is only one established chapter of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow in in the entire state. We cannot wait for these communications professionals to be trained. We need action now. And, even in the future when there will be more trained communicators, they will need the help of farmers and ranchers in a big way to get the message out there; doing anything from being part of public forums to inviting agritourists onto their land.
And not only do we need to speak with the public, but with people and organizations on the other side of the line as well. For example, in 2010, the egg industry sat down with the Humane Society. Many argued that they were going to destroy agriculture as a whole and that they had opened the door to opposing organizations altering the agricultural industry for the worse. What actually happened was that the egg industry came to an agreement with HSUS and were able to set out a list of operational rules that benefitted both parties. More importantly, the egg industry was able to avoid a constant barrage of legal assaults in the future and they are now able to concentrate, not on court room battles, but on producing eggs and growing and improving the industry.
Communication with the public is the only way in which we will be able to keep our industry alive. For the majority of us, it is a new skill. Honestly, many of us chose our profession because we were promised that we would never have to learn that skill. Many of you are happy to take the tractor another round on the back 40 with only your own thoughts to keep you company. Maybe it’s the back of a horse or quad while checking herds that suits you. Those are the lives we love and they offer peaceful tranquility, a sense of accomplishment, and it’s work we’re proud to do. Chances are, it is the opportunity to do this work that you hope to pass down to your children. Bluntly put, it won’t be there for them if you don’t take action now.