Do you know what I love most about the men and women in the farming and agriculture community? They’re a humble and a selfless group. Most of them span generations of hardworking farmers, ranchers, and growers. And for decades they have quietly put in their hundred-hour workweeks with no need for fanfare or recognition. They don’t boost and they don’t brag. Because seeing what their tireless efforts can produce, for them, their family, and the consumer has been more than enough.
When I first told my husband that I wanted to create a space on social media to get the word out about farming he said to me: “But why? We know what we do.” That brings me to the main reason why I feel the farming and agriculture industry has fallen prey to misconstrued information and harmful campaigns, especially over the past decade. That night in our kitchen, it was a light-bulb moment. I don’t believe, even a generation ago, that farmers could have imagined a world where their industry would be under the social and political attack that it is today. They know all the good that they do, they take great pleasure in their growth and innovation, and they talk about it non-stop — to each other.
Yes, of course, they know how they contribute to the greater good, and they take great satisfaction in that. But today, in this social climate, by not speaking up and speaking out, farmers are letting someone else write the story and tell a differing version of ag’s legacy. Times have changed. If we, as farmers and ranchers, are not taking the initiative to talk with our neighbors and consumers, then someone else will. When that happens, it’s more than likely things will be lost in translation or be entirely misinterpreted.
For the first time in two years, the Dairy Delivers tool was updated. This is a tool created by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) to show a comprehensive report of how the production and marketing of all dairy products — milk, ice cream, cheese, butter, yogurt and cultured products, and ingredients such as protein powders and whey — positively affect the U.S. economy. Currently, as a nation, the dairy industry contributes 1 percent to the national GDP. That adds up to $620 billion in total economic impact and supports more than 3 million total jobs in America. In the United States, ice cream production itself has created 26,000 jobs! In our state of Pennsylvania, agriculture makes up a large majority of the industry — $14.7 billion to the state economy every year. And our state’s dairy industry supports over 52,000 people with jobs. That is huge, and it’s a vastly unknown fact to the public.
Unfortunately, countless facts and truths about agriculture are unknown to the public; they get lost in the shuffle and all of the other media noise.
I am privileged to experience the agriculture industry from a unique perspective. I didn’t grow up on a farm, instead I grew up in the suburbs of a rural community. I had no personal ties to the massive amounts of farmland that surrounded me. My father, however, did grow up on a farm. He and his family had one cow for milking, chickens for eggs, and beef cattle and pigs for meat. My grandfather drove a truck during the week, and in his spare time they, as a family, raised what was needed to provide for themselves. The image of farm life and homesteading that I just portrayed was all too real and true of that generation. Now, we are so far removed from the farm that most of the general public has no real ties to agriculture. The majority of consumers get everything from a large chain store or maybe a pop-up outdoor market. And if you’re lucky enough to live in a community that is largely agriculturally based then you can get your hands on fresh seasonal produce from local farm stands and your neighbors.
I am now married to a third-generation dairy farmer, and I get to experience the industry and lifestyle first hand. I’ve come to understand that it’s our job to remind people why we’re here, why we’ve weathered hundreds of years and spanned multiple generations. It’s our job to remind them how we come from a long line of men and women, people who were the first innovators to industrialize a common way of life so it could support a nation. Marketing is everything. I know it. I have a marketing degree and took countless hours of classes on branding and marketing strategies. And right now– the anti-ag and plant-based movement are doing bang-up job marketing their cause. It’s loud, it’s proud, it’s flashy, it’s catchy, and it’s passionate. It’s now our turn to show why. Show why it gives you the pride to wake up in the early hours of the morning and work until after the sun sets for the day. Let the public in on all the ways you strategize to make your operations more efficient while reducing your environmental footprint. Show why a carnivore diet is beneficial, why drinking milk and consuming dairy products is good for your health.
Why do we farm? Today, the public won’t know unless we tell them. So, farmers, I urge you to get the good word out. I urge you to talk about it, write about it, make ads, create campaigns, take the classes, research your consumer base, shout it from a building top or in the middle of the town square. Look for ways to create positive conversations and dialogue about all the good you and your family are doing for the country’s economy while simultaneously producing food for their dinner table. Join in on the programs your state or local organizations are offering. You’re not careless and uneducated; you’re careful and innovative.
The entire community has come a long way over the past several decades, and they do not get the amount of the credit that they deserve. It is OK to be humble, it’s admirable, even. But it’s not, however, OK to let someone else tell your story. A good offense is always the best defense.
Tiffany Hess is married to a third-generation dairy farmer and blogs on the site Three Girls and a Farm. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to her three young daughters, determined to live a full and simple life with a family of five.