Going through social media a few days ago I was pleasantly surprised to come across a post from the Ohio Farm Bureau. It was an open letter to legislators debunking the myths around animal agriculture. I know the letter’s author, Ty Higgins of Ohio Farm Bureau, and am always impressed by his passion for agriculture and willingness to advocate for farmers every time I have the opportunity to speak to him.
What impressed me about the article and open letter the most was simply the fact that it had been written. What I see Ty and his team at Ohio Farm Bureau doing is what every state level farm bureau should be doing across the country. I hear from farmers around the country, and world, through my own farming experiences and through my social media outreach.
What I encounter consistently is the frustration felt by them over lack of education among consumers and the misinformation spread through social media and organizations.
I also find that even though these farmers are a wealth of information on their chosen professions, most are simply too busy farming to consistently engage consumers and the collective public on what is credible and factual regarding agriculture. I get it, it’s hard to keep up with social media. And there are organizations that are outright unfriendly toward farmers and certain styles of farming, spending millions on what amounts to nothing more than propaganda.
This is why, more now than ever, we need companies, agricultural organizations, ag friendly media, and others with a public platform to stand up for these men and women and our industry. Silence is complicity. It is time to start hitting back with facts and science, and this needs to come from people who actually work in ag.
I do have a platform and frequently encounter individuals who are misinformed about various aspects of agriculture. They want to know, from a farmer, if what they heard or read is indeed accurate. I am happy to set the record straight, and if I don’t know the answer, I find a good source to share with them.
And while there are many organizations dedicated to providing resources and information about agriculture, unfortunately, some of them have developed into echo chambers. This can be something that just occurs “naturally” as like minded individuals group together. I get it, it’s a community and a source of support. I think some individuals, corporations and even ag organizations that represent farmers are afraid of “cancel culture.” They shouldn’t be, because canceling any ag operation is also canceling food, fiber, and fuel for an ever-growing population.
I also see appeasement. It boggles my mind when I see companies like General Mills who make their profits from the sweat of farmers alienate a vast majority of them just to cash in on the latest food trend. I have seen state level farm bureaus support individuals who not only despise modern and conventional ag, but make their living vilifying it. I heard from one member of leadership from an ag organization that said, “We all need to work together and there is room enough for everyone.” Of course he is absolutely right! The problem is those individuals and organizations they align with are working on media campaigns and with legislators to damage ag.
Here in Indiana, I have seen animal-rights activists and farmers who sell protein labeled as “better” because of pastures or non-GMO feed work together to undermine conventional ag. I have no problem with farmers who take a holistic approach and pasture animals versus confinement, but that also comes with a price tag that average consumers cannot pay. When they use moral superiority and guilt to sell their products, that is not OK. It is not fair to other farmers who do not have NGO media and PR backing.
As farmers, we need to start holding these organizations and companies accountable. Let them know that we are not OK with misinformation. We are not OK with being called polluters, poisoners, or, in the case of animal ag, murderers. If they can buy a farmer’s harvest and make a profit from it, then they can defend that farmer too.
Farming is already a tough job and now we are expected to be doing our own PR on top of everything else.
So, thank you Ohio Farm Bureau for your support.
Jonathan Lawler operates Brandywine Creek Farms in Indiana and is an advocate for hunger relief and agriculture. He is working on a TV show called Punk Rock Farmer coming soon. His motto is FARM OR DIE.