The person behind the farmer

So often in our country, we criticize agriculture for one thing or another. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, very few people know a farmer who can support or refute those criticisms. I’ve always thought one of the coolest things about the agriculture ‘movement’, so to speak, online–whether it’s through a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or something else–is that everyone who interacts with a farmer has the ability to see that there is a real person there. Yes, you can learn about agriculture and statistics and production methods–that’s all extremely valuable information, don’t get me wrong. But above and beyond that, I think it’s really cool to find out the person behind the job. Knowing a farmer has a family, likes to golf, reads in their spare time, supports a local 4-H club, has business struggles, etc.–all of those stories are just as important as the information gained, in my opinion, because they help us realize that farmers –even though we may not know one personally–are a lot like us.

The Progressive Farmer magazine recently gave me the opportunity to take a look at one of their upcoming articles that seeks to accomplish this exact goal–introduce real farmers with real stories (and, yes, those stories sometimes include things not related to a tractor or a barn). The article highlights three farming families all trying to get by, no matter what struggles face them. Along the way, Progressive Farmer attempts to debunk some agricultural myths and share ways that these farmers are working to leave their operations better for future generations.

Clay Rightmer and his business partner assess the ranch. Photo courtesy of The Progressive Farmer.

Progressive Farmer interviewed farm families from different parts of the country–the Becker family from Minnesota, the Rightmer family from Texas, and the Hays family from Missouri. Now, I could go into telling you everything about these families, but I figure you can read about the details for yourself when the magazine hits your mailbox around August 3rd (yes, you only have to wait a week!). Instead, I want to touch on some of the things that stuck out to me as the most interesting.

1. Farming is multi-generational.

All three of the families featured in the article were working with at least two generations, if not three. Parents, children, and their children–some immediate family and some in-laws– are all working together to make their farming operations as successful as possible.

I talk to many of my friends who are facing a future of taking over the farm. It is both an extremely rewarding and heart-wrenching experience for all involved. Oftentimes children are looking forward to making the farm even better and parents want to see their children continue the legacy of farming. However, it is also a time of change and a shift in responsibility that can prove difficult for everyone. What I loved about this article is that there are families who can make that transition work, recognizing that it will be a challenge, but in the end a source of family pride.

2. Wives rock.

Now, I’m sure when many of you picture a farmer you picture a man. Don’t worry, I do too. However, I can’t tell you how wrong that stereotype is.

Clay Rightmer and his wife, Jennifer, discuss the day's schedule before heading their seperate ways. Photo courtesy of The Progressive Farmer.

Today, wives and other women  (aunts, sisters, daughters) play just as big of a role in making the farm run smoothly as the men do. They are the keepers of the schedule, the driver of the children, the maker of the meals, and often help with on-farm day-to-day activities.

Off-farm, women are also playing a huge role in making sure that the message of agriculture is communicated. Julie Becker travels regionally to educate consumers as a part of the National Pork Board Operation Main Street program.

We’ve been [trying to do] the right things all along, but now it is more important than ever to get out message out to main street consumers,” –Julie Becker

3. Sports–The Fun That Holds Us Together!

Okay, I know this has nothing to do with farming, but I found this really interesting–farm families love sports! Now, I won’t say this is a stereotype or anything, but the families in this article and many of the farm families I know definitely fit this bill.

Both the Becker family and the Rightmer’s love baseball and the Hays kids run track, play softball and basketball, and make a little time for some flag-football in the snow! No matter what our background, I love the fact that sports are one thing that really tie us together as Americans–it’s a love of fun, competition, and camaraderie.

Overall, I would say that this is a great article by Progressive Farmer and really meets several goals–tell about different production methods and farm types, try to dispel some agricultural myths, and tell the story of the person behind the farmer. Thank you, Progressive Farmer, for allowing me to have a sneak peak and make sure you pick up your copy in early August to read this great story and check out some fun pictures of all the families!

Passion–A curse and a blessing.

Passion–it’s an interesting thing. I have always tried to live a life full of it. Indeed, when I was a state FFA officer, our theme for the year was ‘Dare to Live: Unleash Your Passion’. However, for as much as living with passion has helped me be successful in a number of things and activities, it is also the thing that has put me in tears on a variety of occasions. Let me elaborate.

For the better part of a decade–the time-period where I’ve made most of my fairly adult decisions, I’d say–I have followed involvement in agriculture with a sincere passion for the industry. I love FFA, 4-H, NAMA, #agchat and everything else that I have been able to get my hands on to help me bring my passions to reality in every day life. In all of my activities, however, I hold myself to a very high caliber. I blame it on the passion. Irregardless, trying to live up to my own high standard and do everything with passion–and not just because I should–has helped me accomplish a great many things, from earning scholarships and awards to meeting a host of amazing people. For that, I am grateful.

On the flip side of all the wonderful things living a life with passion has allowed me to experience, passion has also led me to experience frustration on a number of occasions. In the past, funding for FFA and support for my major have led me to get worked up on several instances. Lately, I’ve seen an online community that I am a very avid supporter of face challenge. Everyday, the non-farm public criticizes not only our industry, but our way of life. For me, frustration can lead to tears and, in those moments, I sometimes wonder if it’s easier to follow a life that is passion-less. Without passion, no one can ever tear you down.

But then I remember the conversations I’ve had with people over the years. What is a life without passion? Meaningless. Do you live a life with or without passion? How do you handle moments when that passion is criticized or attacked?

Someday (I hope), I’ll toughen up and be able to defend my passion in a calm, collected, effective way. That part can be fixed. Living a passion-less life, though? There’s often no cure for that.

The Foundation, the Sponsors, and the Important Stuff.

Wow. There’s a lot of talk going on on Twitter right now about the ‘real’ story behind #agchat. Some people have this idea that the AgChat Foundation and #agchat conversations are sponsored by ‘Big Ag’ (whatever the heck that is) as a way to get their products and self-enhancing messages out. First off, I’d like to say that the AgChat Foundation is a non-profit organization that runs off the donations of anyone who wants to support their mission and the work of some AMAZING volunteers. Secondly, I’d like to ask this:

Who cares???

Now, I know you’re probably like, ‘Huh? What do you mean ‘Who cares?” This is what I mean: Agricultural businesses of many different sectors support lots of different not-for-profit organizations. Syngenta, Monsanto, Tyson, and Cargill are just a few organizations that are supporters of things like FFA, 4-H, and the student activities of the National Agri-Marketing Association. These businesses give their money to non-profits because they care about the cause and purposes of these things. There are youth in each of these organizations who present, learn, and talk about things other than conventionally raised crops and livestock. However, it is about the larger goal. Supporters know that these organizations teach youth the skills needed to be strong and valued employees and contributors in agriculture.

To bring it back to the AgChat Foundation–I don’t know that there are any corporate sponsors of the Foundation yet, but if there were I wouldn’t care who they were one bit. Sponsors would be supporting the organization’s mission–Empower farmers and ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms. Not conventional farmers only. Not communities who only eat organic. Not platforms that are approved by our sponsors only. Every farmer, every rancher, every community, talking about every platform. That is what a sponsor who gives to the AgChat Foundation would be supporting.

Now, I won’t say that a company like Monsanto or Cargill wouldn’t be getting a little advertising out of their sponsorship. Of course they would–it’s lip-service and brand recognition. However, there are a lot of places a multi-million dollar business could get those things. They don’t have to support a bunch of farmers on Twitter to do so.

As I finish up, I would like to say thank-you to everyone who has volunteered their time to making the AgChat Foundation a reality. Your hard work and dedication has not gone unnoticed. I am so excited to meet you all in August and to see the good work that I’m sure will come from you never-ending passions in the future.

Has it been a year already?

Sometimes it is absolutely crazy to thing about everything that happens over the course of a year. This summer it’s especially crazy, because I will have been actively involved in social media as a medium for sharing about agriculture for that shiny milestone–a year.

Earlier today, I was talking with a fellow college Tweep and throughout the course of the conversation we got discussing all of the people we’ve met through social media. Whether it is a weekly #AgChat conversation or meeting someone in person, our online interactions have helped us create relationships we never would have dreamed possible. With those people, we’ve shared opinions on happenings in agriculture, talked about clothes, and worked to make a change for our industry and society. I know if you had asked me last summer what I thought I would happen with my new Twitter account, none of those things would have ever come to my mind.

This post isn’t very long, but I would more or less just like to say thank you to all of the people who have made my social media experience the wonderful one that it’s been. I can’t wait to meet you all in person in the future, but even if I don’t, know that you’ve made a strong impact on me and how I see my ability to make a difference. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds.