Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sharing our Stories

Growing up on a farm in a largely farm-centered community, I for years took for granted that beef comes from steers that spend their lives in fields, rangeland and feed lots; bread comes from wheat fields irrigated with water from the Colorado and other rivers; and clothes come from fields of tall cotton treated with a defoliant to make machine picking possible.

I took for granted that everyone, on some level, understood these things. It’s common knowledge that without alfalfa there is no ice cream, right?


When I went away to college in the heart of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, I learned pretty quickly that not only had most of my classmates never been members of FFA, they didn’t even know what FFA was. When I told them my parents’ profession, they were taken aback. It had never occurred to them that farmers actually existed in real life – let alone that they had daughters who went to college.

After graduating I embarked on a career in advertising, mainly in the restaurant industry. But I continued to be amazed at the lack of knowledge, or should I say lack of accurate knowledge, of the true source of our food and fiber, even among those whose livelihood is centered on buying, preparing and selling food.

Over time, it began to nag at me. Every comment about the dangers of so-called Frankenfoods, every misinformed newspaper article about the meat industry, and every letter to the editor proclaiming San Diego the rightful recipient of Imperial Valley’s water troubled me more and more.

Finally, I came to the realization that the only way to counter all the misconceptions about agriculture was to seriously focus on educating the public. But how?

The answer came in the opportunity to begin working in agriculture. I loved my job at the time, but at the end of the day, writing menus and developing marketing campaigns for swordfish with avocado-lime butter (while tasty) wasn’t going to change the world, or even my little corner of it.

However, with a passion for agriculture and a career built on informing and persuading the public, perhaps I could make some headway in educating the public about the people, the hard work and the many challenges that go into producing the food they eat and the clothes they wear.

Many in the public do not get a chance to see the value farmers & ranchers put on ensuring the quality and reliability of our soil and water. It is through the sharing of our stories that we can begin to make a difference in public perception. Helping just one person understand the true nature of the ag industry is a big step in the right direction.

If you are a part of the agriculture community, I ask you to be advocates for agriculture yourselves. Be it simply posting a well-thought-out comment on a web site, talking to your non-farming friends about agriculture, or being a public spokesperson for an issue you hold dear, the agriculture community needs you to step up, now more than ever.

With the sting of Proposition 2 still fresh, it is important that we fight back against some of the misconceptions about our industry.

People need to know that agriculture’s carbon footprint is smaller now than it was when mules and oxen were the implements of choice.

We should be telling people that, while California is the largest agriculture state in the nation, with more than 13% of the nation’s cash receipts for all commodities, farmers in the state received just 4% of the nation’s direct payments in 2007.

And it should be common knowledge that modern science-based livestock confinement methods, such as hen cages, are not only more efficient, but more humane and keep animals safer and healthier than alternatives like free-range operations.

Ten years from now, I hope that the general public has a greater appreciation and understanding of agriculture than they do now, and I hope that I can say I had a small part in making that happen.

With your help, too, it will happen.