My biggest fan and only granddaughter doesn't read much beyond names and words in neon — like McDonalds and Wal-Mart.
She does, however, love to ‘read' from cover to cover each edition of the Southeast Farm Press in search of my name or picture, which occasionally occur in the magazine.
During one of these readings she asked me why my name and picture are in the magazine. Thinking this was an innocuous enough question for a five year old to ask, I gave her the simplest reply I could come up with — I write about farmers and farming.
Her next question created the need for a little more in-depth answer. She asked, “what's a farmer and farming”. Drawing on past experiences with my daughters and a one-time long ago cover to cover reading of Dr. Spock's bible on child rearing, I came up with the most reader level compatible answer I could develop. Farmers are men who plant seeds and grow the crops that are made into the food we eat.
First mistake, I learned was this generation of five year olds are much more savvy than their mothers had been. “Why can't girls be farmers,” she asked. After some very careful verbal back-pedaling on gender equality, I thought I had escaped the farmer-farming question.
But no, Katherine Grace was determined to know about farming and farmers. Thinking this to be infinitely more educational than another rerun of Dora the Explorer, I plunged into a full scale explanation of farming and farmers.
A farmer, I told her, must have a really big love of the land because it is so important in taking care of the seed they plant. “Sort of like Aunt Lollie (her aunt Julie, who is a neonatal nurse) loves the hospital because that's where she helps sick babies get healthy,” she queried.
Moving on, I said a farmer has to know just how much fertilizer to put on his or her crop — careful to add the gender equality — to make them grow. “Like mommy gives me Flintstones (multiple vitamins for kids) to help me grow,” she concluded.
Thinking we were getting somewhere, I told her farmers have to be a pathologist to know when their crops are sick and to know how much fungicide, like medicine, to give them. “Like Dr. Thorne (her pediatrician) knows why my throat or ears hurt and which medicine to give me,” she reasoned.
Farmers also have to be economists to know how much money they will need to buy their seeds, and tractors and vitamins and medicine will cost. And, to know how much to charge for their crops so they can make a good living for their families, but also make food low enough in cost for us all to buy. Temporarily stuck, she rebounded with, “sort of like Nannah (her grandmother, who is a banker) knows how to buy things to make enough money for her bank to help people have enough money,” she grinned.
Finally, I said, a farmer has to be an engineer to know which equipment to buy for the farm, and most importantly how to fix things when they won't work. “Good thing you're not a farmer, she said quite seriously, because Nannah says it takes you forever to fix anything.”
With that she concluded, farmers must be really smart. I bet everybody loves farming. When I grow up — maybe when I'm seven, I think I may be a farmer, she concluded. Knowing her penchant for growing up to be a super hero, I sat back, quite pleased with my farmer/farming explanation.
Then, I remembered a recent study I had seen that indicated the majority of Americans do in fact hold farmers in high regard. Farming, on the other hand is not so highly rated.
Most of us who have been involved in agriculture for many years agree that we have done a poor job of telling our story to our urban counterparts. As a result, it is too often too easy for unenlightened and uninspired politicians to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to one piece of legislation or another that has little impact on their constituents, but is critical to the existence and growth of agriculture.
And, all too many critics of agriculture don't take the time to understand how critical agriculture is to the U.S. economy and to our whole way of life — not to mention the impact on farmers.
Conversely, those of us charged with helping them understand agriculture, spend too much time preaching to the choir, rather than converting the sinners — so to speak. If a five year old can understand the relevance of farmers and farming, it seems reasonable that learned people should be able to find creative and innovative ways to tell our story.
I doubt that many members of the World Trade Organization have a full grasp of how their vote affects the every day lives of tens of thousands of people in rural communities, whose livelihood revolve around an economy based on farming.
Ditto for many well-meaning, but misguided and self-proclaimed environmentalists, who want to save the world by forcing sometimes absurd guidelines on farmers. Farming may be the target, but farmers are often the casualties. Farmers, they should remember, are the original environmentalists — they have more to gain or lose by the quality of land, air and water than any other group in the world.
Philosophically, I understand the downside of Federal subsidies to farmers and to the benefit of changes in policy like GATT and NAFTA. However, if one uses the often used political platform of: “are you better off now than you were before these programs,” virtually everyone associated with agriculture would answer NO.
Try as we might, when the infrastructure of farmer cooperatives, cotton gins, peanut buying points and such are gone, they are gone forever, and we will never get them back. If a five year old can equate farming to all the important things in her life, I am convinced we can find a way to give farming the same good name that farmers seem to have.