I grew up a 4-H kid in Wisconsin. One of my closest friends as a child was always on her grandparents’ farm, so every day after school we would ride horses and do chores. I always loved working with animals and absolutely loved the farm life.
In high school you take those aptitude tests that tell you what you should be when you grow up and what you should major in in college. All of my testing said that I should work in agriculture, but I ignored all that and moved to Los Angeles, where I received my degree in visual communications from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.
Throughout my time in the big city I had become far removed from the farm life. I got a job working for Gucci on Rodeo Drive (in Beverly Hills of all places!) and was surrounded by agricultural myths and people who were really into diet and healthy living. I moved to Chicago and saw the movie “Food, Inc.” If you’ve ever seen that movie you’d understand what I’m saying when I say that from then on I only bought organic foods. Based on what I heard (the big-city myths) I thought that if I wasn’t buying organic, I was eating pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics; animals were raised in torturous conditions; GMOs were forcing family farmers out of business; Monsanto was the devil poisoning the planet with GMOs; and all the other crazy things that we still often hear today. What I know now that I wish I knew then is that was the whole point of “Food, Inc.” It was funded by the organic industry (Stonyfield, anyone?) to push a fear-based agenda to sell you their products. But that movie is riddled with point-blank lies.
I didn’t realize I had been duped until about five or six years ago when I first met my now boyfriend, Doug. He is a fifth-generation farmer in Iowa, and we have now been living and working together on the farm for almost three years. I bought his uncle’s sheep farm, and we are a great team. My life has gone from rodeo to the rodeo and I wouldn’t have it any other way — I love being getting back to my “roots” of farm living. The more I learn from real farmers, the more I enjoy telling the real story of our industry.
The reason I share my story with you; the reason I am so passionate about this, is because I want people to know I get it. I was once very misinformed and wasted a lot of money. I see how crazy and confusing it can be to only want what’s best for your family, the planet, and the animals. I want people to understand that farmers are real people who just want to connect with you. Behind the corporate face of “big ag” are real family farmers. Good people who want you to understand what we do and why.
Unfortunately there are many people out there who are trying to manipulate our stories to push an agenda. Groups such as PETA and HSUS create false narratives to gather donations and scare you into giving up meat, while making a lot of money and not using your donations as promised. But what they say is just plain not true or they’ve edited footage to create a misleading story.
Food companies will also stop at nothing to sell a product, even if that means bombarding you with dozens of misleading food labels and marketing ploys to sell a product. The organic industry lobbyists paint a pretty picture, but once you dig in behind movies like “Food, Inc.” and what they say about agriculture, these activists do not tell the truth and are attempting to block technology that could help the planet and farmers all around the world who need it the most.
So why do I advocate for agriculture? I want to give farmers a bigger voice. I want consumers to learn from those of us who actually produce the food they eat, the clothes on their backs, etc. I don’t want people to fear their food like I once did. Our industry is amazing. Technology allows livestock to be more comfortable than ever before, we have never been better environmental stewards, we are able to grow more crops on less land while using fewer inputs. The list goes on. So the next time you hear or read something that sounds scary or questionable, it’s OK to examine the source. Has the author ever been a farmer? What is their background? Do they live in a big city and are they trying to sell you something? Think critically and go visit these farms for yourself! Track down a real farmer. See if you can go on a tour, connect with your local Farm Bureau. We go to our mechanic for car advice, our lawyers for legal advice, doesn’t it make sense to talk to farmers about farming and not a movie or TV show produced by a Hollywood celebrity?
Consumers, we want you to know that we understand your frustrations. We are consumers, too, and we are listening. But a Hollywood celebrity is about the furthest person who understands what actually goes on behind our barn doors. If you want to know more about what we do, we are happy to share our stories with you. We will open our barn doors as long as you keep your eyes, ears, and your mind open as well. Farmers want you to know how much we care and I encourage everyone to have a friendly dialogue to bridge the gap between the big cities and our rural communities.