When I was young, I wanted to travel. Not just the U.S. but beyond its borders to other countries. I am sure most of us can imagine what it would be like as a young country girl/boy — wondering what the world is like beyond where we live.
In the place I grew up and live now, not very many people travel far. If people do, it is through their college years or in the military. Then, they come back home and are done traveling. They end up not traveling any farther than the nearest big town, for “date night.” It is a simple life. Another thing that comes into play is the money to be able to travel. Most, like my family, work, work, work. Not interested in looking beyond their backyards/farms. Most of our older generation of farmers traveled during the war and no further. I had a farmer tell me that, “I was born on this farm, and I will die here. This is the way it should be.” My husband finds it funny that some just within my family have not traveled outside the county in 20 years!
I met my husband nearly 17 years ago. He was the first “foreigner” I ever met. You will find in my area that if someone is here from a different country, it’s a big thing. I mean, they have traveled! They must have interesting stories, and must be rich, right?
After dating and getting married, I traveled with him “over the pond” — as they say — to a whole other world. I came to a slow realization that I can learn so much just from the new environment I have pushed myself into. There is the world outside of our own.
When we started farming, traveling became the last thing we thought about. Still is some days. To make our farm work and our growing family work, we had to make some sacrifices.
Seven years ago I got a call, an actual phone call offering me a position on a local organization’s board. A bit out of my comfort zone, but one I thought I should push myself toward. It could give me possibilities to learn from others outside the farm. After learning about other farmers within just this local organization, and how everyone’s farms differ, we all have the same goal in mind. I wanted to get on with the next challenge. What else could that broaden my experiences beyond our farm? Then came an email in 2014 to apply for a leadership program — the first of its kind for the organization I was already a part of. I have to be open about who I am and what I want out of the program. Oh, and I have to give an interview on Skype. Yeah, how many farmers like doing that? Umm. I did not think I would get it, but I did. We traveled within our state seeing the many different sides of what and how things are produced within our four corners. The diversity of people, places, and worlds just in our state broadened my mind. We eventually went to D.C., which I have gone to before, but never experienced the thrill and privilege to talk with those who have the “iron pens” within these buildings. The staff who run to and fro work nearly as many hours like some of us, just on concrete, not dirt.
How many of us can say we have learned outside our comfort zones? Been able to ask questions to those we would never have met where we live currently? Realize, like I did, that the world is so much bigger than the fields outside our backdoors. Do we become more credible as a leader of our communities with these opportunities? We no longer have only opinions but actual knowledge of where our crops go and how they are being used beyond our fields. Have we physically been in a room where a government process was taking place that could affect us?
The networking beyond anything else is broadening. Things that may work for us at home may not work well for others. Not just with other farmers, but with legislators, consumers, and immigrants. They all have front doors to their homes, just like we do. Many open that door for you to see the life they live and why. It is time for us to do the same. How can we see what lies before us if we do not seek it, to better understand it? Anything that makes you feel like unsteady and outside your comfort zone is an opportunity.
Jenny Burgess is the author of the Farmwife Transparency blog, where she tries to bridge the information gap between farmers and consumers. Jenny and her husband own Burgess Hill Farms in Kansas, and she is a mom to two kids.