Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Confession from a Former Ag Snob

I’ve got something on my mind…something I really need to share with you.

It’s a confession of sorts…something that makes me feel more than a little embarrassed. …and some of you aren’t going to like me anymore. . Some for what I was...and probably more what I have become.

You see…

I used to be an “Ag Snob”…or maybe it was a “Food Snob”.

The term doesn’t really matter…

I looked down on those who went about their work of feeding the world…just because they did it in ways I didn’t understand.  I honestly thought THE ENTIRE WORLD could be fed organically, with no other options. (and my understanding of farming methods was way off base) Small Ag. was definitely best! ..."the only way"! While I never said bad things (out loud) about the “conventional farmers” of Big Ag., I just knew that their way of doing things was wrong (because, of course…MY way was right).  And, yes, I was even heard to mutter against that “Archer-Daniels Midland, extruded, amalgamated blah, blah, blah…”.

                    Then, one day something changed.

It occurred to me that maybe things weren’t quite as black/white or good vs. evil as I thought. The whole debate over food production wasn’t quite as cut and dried as I had heard. No one type of farming was superior to the others.   They were just different.

Some years ago, I realized that…

This world needs all sorts of agriculture.

I don’t know exactly when it happened.

Maybe it was experiencing firsthand what is involved in getting crops to Market. Farmers (of any type) don’t work hand-in-hand with nature…it’s more like hand-to-hand combat sometimes. Pests do not stay away just because you have healthy crops. Crop rotation doesn't assure success. You can’t just ask insects and disease to get off your farm, not even if you do it nicely.

Maybe it was the feeling of helplessness when we had multiple lambs die one season long ago…because I thought that internal parasites weren’t a “real big deal” and could be addressed in a traditional, completely herbal way. I honestly thought that my shepherd friends were exaggerating when they said "the thing sheep do best is die." By the time we understood the problem, it was too late.

Maybe it was watching my husband struggle with an illness that I’m fairly certain came from under-cooked, never medicated, “natural” homegrown (somewhat undercooked) pork. Trichonellosis is very real and while not always deadly, it IS debilitating and recovery takes a LONG time! Modern farming methods keep it from being an issue for most folks.

Maybe it was the countless times the vet had to come to get us through another episode of milk fever with our “alternative ag” cows…  Once we changed feed rations and learned about calcium and nutrition, we finally beat the problem…and earned the “old school” vet’s respect. Oh, and had healthy, productive cows!

Maybe it was talking with other growers about handling issues in different manners.  We have learned an enormous amount over the years…most of it the hard way, too.

Maybe it was visiting a “conventional” dairy…and seeing the care and concern the dairyman had for his “girls”.  While he would never admit it, those cows had names, yes…they did!

Maybe it was seeing “behind the veil” of alternative ag.  Honestly, there are some bad farmers out there no matter what their practice.

Maybe it was finally putting a FACE on those folks I’d only heard about.  Farmers, of all sorts, are REAL people that are doing the best job they can with the resources at their disposal.

Maybe it was actually researching things for myself that I had only heard others’ opinions about in the past. Over the years, we have learned a great deal from all sorts of farmers.  For that matter, all sorts of people.

There are so many issues that affect our food supply that completely escape the average consumer.

I stand in awe of those large growers that provide a safe, secure and AFFORDABLE source for all the rest of us. But, at the same time, I am proud of the work we do and the products we provide from our little homestead here on the hill. We also work hard and provide an excellent product line. Know what?  There is room for everyone.  ...and absolutely NO need for fear-mongering and bashing.

Many of the things that work on a small operation cannot be applied to a large farm.  That doesn’t make the large farms wrong in their practices.  Large farms have the benefit of specialized equipment and programs that are not available to the “little guys”.  This should NOT negate the efforts of the small farm and farmer. There is a place for each and every person who feels that urge to coax food from the land.  While it’s not the same place…that’s okay.  Variety is the spice of life.

So while the rhetoric from the “food police” gets a little more shrill with each passing day…and the debate and discussion grows heated between foodies and farmers, I’d like to interject something.

Let’s all just take a deep breath and try to be civil here.  Let’s listen with an open-mind and respond with a caring heart.  There are far too many folks in this world (many of whom do not have a reliable food source) for a few of us to make broad and sweeping assumptions and demand “food justice” by our own definitions. (particularly when we have food in our bellies and a comfortable home)

Personally, I am thankful for each and every person who is involved with getting food to my table. Far beyond the farmers/ranchers and their employees…you have truck drivers and warehouse dudes and the cashiers at the grocery stores…and lots of folks in between.

An old proverb says: 

"When there is food, there are many problems; when there is no food, there is only one problem."

As long as food seems plentiful, the various factions can debate and discuss various options and defame one another.  The fact remains that every single person on this planet needs to eat…on a regular basis…and we should never take that privilege for granted. Nor should we attempt to dictate anyone else's food choices or production practices.

I know I don’t!

…not anymore!

Here’s a THANK YOU to all those folks involved in some aspect of AGRICULTURE...

 ... that make it possible for me to put food on our table every single day…

...from the folks who raise the seed that other farmers use to grow the grain that feeds our animals, to those workers who process the poultry litter into the organic fertilizer that makes our crops grow so well.  The seed farmers, the hay farmers, the truck drivers, stockboys (and girls) the people who fill our orders, answer our questions, mill our grain, and provide us with the products we need to do our work---

I could never include everyone who makes it possible for us to eat well, have clothing, and make our living doing something we love.

I truly appreciate the effort each of you puts forth on a daily basis.

‘Cause we’re all connected here…all a part of a very complicated whole…

…and I apologize for ever looking down on and/or questioning any practices that I just didn’t understand.

If you want to know more about food production and handling, I would like to help you answer your questions.  If I don't have personal experience or know the exact answer...I know people who do. I’ll be glad to help you find the information you need.


  1. Fabulous post! I do love to read your posts, but this is my favorite to date! I will be sharing. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Nicole! The kind words mean a LOT...especially coming from you. I truly appreciate the sharing, too.

  2. This couldn't have come at a better time. After reading all the latest posts about Chipotle (and the nasty comments left by some consumers on farmers posts) I felt like throwing my hands up and saying Can't We All Just Get Along! That will never happen of course but here's one of my favorite quotes that I added to the end of my blog post today (that was not as eloquent as yours but definitely ended on a similar note):

    Walt Bones, the former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture wrote this in an article of Cattle Business Weekly last year:

    “A problem (and opportunity) for us in Agriculture is that a vast majority of our population is at least three generations removed from the farm and they don’t know how their food is being produced. That lack of knowledge makes attacking our abundant and diversified food supply here in the US an easy target….We are also blessed that our farmers, ranchers, processors, and distributers, and retailers can deliver all this food to us for the smallest percentage of our disposable income when compared to anywhere else in the world-leaving each of us with more money to spend on discretionary items. The next time you hear someone attacking our food supply, please keep in mind that the world loses thousands of people each day to starvation. An available, affordable and safe food supply is a must. We can debate production systems (organic vs. conventional, grass fed vs. corn fed) but at the table of opportunity, there is room for everyone.”

    Thank you for the beautiful confession! :)

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Mandy.
      Oddly, this had been sitting in my draft file for quite some time. I just couldn't get up the courage to post it. Chipotle just gave me a nudge.
      The whole Chipotle thing has disturbed me in so many ways that I am hoping to explore and actually write about at some time in the near future.
      You know, I'm with you about throwing hands in the air and saying "can't we all just get along?" I wrote a bit about that some time ago. The divisiveness and fear-mongering has GOT to stop!!
      Again, I thank you. Now, I'm off to find your blog! :)

  3. Thank you for a well written confession. I love your honesty and that you have facts and experience behind your thoughts. Too often we let fear drive us instead of seeking wisdom.

    I agree, there is room for all of us.

  4. You not only have written a beautiful blog you have very gently smoothed a healing balm over the whole big farm, small farm issue. I wasn't even aware of all the strife among farmers until I started my page. I so agree with you and back quite sometime ago I wrote a blog about it as well but my words could never compare with yours. Thank you for encouraging all of us to appreciate each other and get the job done together.

    1. Thanks, Kelly! You are always so gracious and kind.
      The whole big farm-small farm debate/discussion makes me so sad. I do hope that someday we'll all learn to get along.

  5. What an absolutely great post that will serve to build bridges across the 'great food divide!' I will share this on some of my email networks. THANK YOU! I too was a food snob, in reverse, until a dear friend of mine afflicted with lupus explained that she must eat organic in order to minimize her lupus flares. That made common sense, and I've since learned that most folks with auto-immune disorders and some allergies are better served with organic food. Lessons for us all - many people, many needs, much diversity in food production is necessary. We must learn to honor one another as farmers and that different needs of humanity call for different food choices. Thank you again for a beautifully written blog.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Julie!
      You are absolutely right that we need to learn to honor one another as farmers...AND different needs of humanity call for different food choices.

  6. I am going to get my farmer to read this tonight Barbara - it is such a sensible and wise piece of writing. Nobody is all right or all wrong, as you say - and we all do our best. Congratulations on speaking out - very brave.

    1. Thank you, Pat. As always, you have encouraged me greatly.
      I'll be interested to hear what the Farmer thinks.

  7. Thank you! As a farm wife, garden grower, canner, and farmer's market seller, I sure wish I could say it as well as you did. I made sure to share it on my wall on facebook.
    Thank you again!!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Stacy!
      It sounds like you and I have a LOT in common.
      Hope you'll come back again...or visit on Facebook.
      I really appreciate the positive feedback.

  8. Wonderful post, Barbara. I share your sentiment and am very thankful for your wise and well written words. There is truly room for every type of food production, and coming together as a team makes farmers stronger!

    All the best to you and your family,
    Anne Burkholder
    Cozad, NE

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Anne!
      I have been following your blog for some time now and have learned a great deal. Thank YOU for being so open and honest about your work.
      I would really like to see farmers come together as a team...that would be awesome in confronting all the mis-information out there.
      Thanks again.

  9. Different isn't always better or worse.There's millions of people making food choices daily and a minority supplying it.

  10. This was one of the most heartwarming blog posts I have read in a very long time. I agree that all types of agriculture are necessary for a dynamic industry that will continue to be successful and make advances throughout the future. Especially through a time of such controversy, such as the organic debates, animal welfare issues, and price conflicts, ALL facets of agriculture need to band together and create one united front. When we can do this, we will be able to establish harmony with our curious consumers. Until then, we are fighting two battles - one with the opposition, and one within ourselves. Agriculture is truly complicated, so we need all hands on deck! Thank you for your honesty, and I appreciate all of the agricultural efforts you are personally involved in!

    1. Oh, thank you, Meghan!
      I completely agree with you when you say "ALL facets of agriculture need to band together and create one united front. When we can do this, we will be able to establish harmony with our curious consumers. Until then, we are fighting two battles - one with the opposition, and one within ourselves." It make me sad (and sometimes angry) when I hear farmers bash other farming practices in hopes of making themselves look good. The customers are already confused and sometimes frightened, back-biting helps no one.
      Here's to working together!

  11. I work on a 650 cow dairy and I know it's hard work feeding the world wether we have 20 cows or 650. I love my "girls" and have many "pets" among them and feel a personal loss when we have to send one to market or have one die after struggling to save her. I grew up on a small farm and it is alot different being invilved in a large dairy but it's still farming and we still care about God's creatures and do our best to ensure they are happy and healthy!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Meghann!
      I truly admire dairy farmers because I know that they work incredibly hard to provide for their "girls" and produce a great product. But, it is obvious that they care for God's creatures. :)

  12. Wonderful insights. What a different world it would be if we focused on "and" rather than "but/or." Everyone will be better served if we commit to dialogue rather than debate. We created huge social systems - cities and metropolitan regions - that cannot be serviced daily by small scale agriculture. Plus, we like foodstuffs that are not simply local, like enjoying bananas and living in the midwest. When we provide local products AND national or international products; organic, natural, AND commercial products; and access AND affordability; we seek to provide food for all, not just for some. If all farmers were worried only about the money, they would choose another less-risky, less-weather dependent, less disease-resistant career than farming. The love of the land, stewardship of resources, and passion for animal husbandry runs deep and is something shared by farmers of all types. The job of feeding the world is too big to be done by small or large farmers. It will require the commitment to excellence from farmers running small AND large farms. Thanks for this dialogue.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Phillip!
      I wholeheartedly agree with all you said. You covered a few points that I missed. Thanks.

  13. Love, love, love this blog post Barbara!! As a small farmer myself, I struggle with trying to help customers understand that 'big ag' is in fact, nonexistent as they see it. Many see our 'small farm' way as the only way and I feel an obligation to share my appreciation for all methods and sizes of agriculture. I couldn't agree more with your statement about farmers bashing other farming practices to make themselves look good. Very sad! Can't we all just get along and be pro-farmer??

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jenny!
      We've been vendors at the local Farmers' Market for many years and you're absolutely right about their misunderstanding of "big ag". I, too, find myself explaining my appreciation of all sorts of operations.
      Pro-farmer...yeah, that would be awesome!

  14. Maybe it's because I was raised in a big city, became a beef producer when I married, have associated with all kinds of farmers and food production because I have had the food fortune to work as a journalist for a smallish regional ag newspaper for more than 33 years, that I agree so heartily with what you say. There is room for all of us. We need all of us. I would love to have a copy of this to email to some of my unenlightened friends.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Caryl! It sounds like you have been leading a most interesting life.
      As for sharing this, there is an email share button at the bottom of the post...that will allow you to send it to your friends. If you don't care to do that...will just adding the link work for you? http://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com/2013/09/a-confession-from-former-ag-snob.html
      If need be, I can email you a copy so you can forward it.
      Thanks again for taking the time to share. :)

  15. Great post! I wish I could force some of the 'foodies' to read this and see that the 'real' world is not this unsustainable crap they are trying to make it!

    I'm in and out of the big factories on a daily basis and I see in 80% of the cases that they are really trying to do the best for everyone and produce amazing products with what they have and in some ways what the customer expects!

    Organic is great thou if you really think about what you are doing then you can still produce awesome product without having to go through the massive proccess of certification and then also charging an arm and a leg!

    Only just found your blog so will be reading a bit more for sure...


    1. Thanks for the comments and kind words, Mick!
      Good luck with convincing the "foodies" to change their mind.
      We sell at our local Farmers' Market so we talk to "foodie-customers" all the time...and I don't think I've convinced anyone to change their mind (yet). It does make for lively conversations!
      Hope you'll come back and visit again.

  16. I live in Toronto, but I grew up on a farm in Oregon and my parents' best friends owned a dairy. It infuriates me to see so many of my peers blindly hand-wringing and moaning about GMOs and "factory farms" when they've lived in the city all their lives and think milk comes from a plastic bag, farmland is just that boring crap you drive through to get to the cottage, and meat is magically delivered to the store shrink-wrapped by the Keebler elves or something.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I think you're right...a lot of folks would benefit from a visit to a farm.

  17. Just reposted on Facebook. This is what I keep saying but have never put into words. Thanks for a heartfelt view!

  18. Great read! Sharing it here in the Western Livestock Journal office!

  19. I love this post and almost agree with you entirely. I cannot bring myself round to accepting battery hens and what for all intents and purposes battery pigs who cannot turn arround for their entire lives. Or for the continuous use of antibiotics which mean the bugs do not react to them any more. (but yes we need them when an animal is ill) and cows which have been bred to produce so much milk they have become factories, and need to have calcium. On the other side organic farmers who insist on not pasterising their milk. I just feel the two extremes of farming today could learn a lot from each other instead of being warring factions.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Sally!
      I agree with you that the extremes of farming could learn a lot from each other.
      Much of what the public thinks they know about agriculture doesn't come directly from the farm and in many ways is false, or at least a misrepresentation of the truth. I find it heartening that farmer (of all sorts) are speaking out and sharing their stories. I'd like to see us come together, not tear each other apart.