Hosting my friends at the Arkansas Farm Bureau today on the blog. Social Media and Public Relations Specialist Mollie Dykes shares some thoughts on Arkansas farming and sustainability. It really does matter on every front and in every industry!
What I love most about what she shares is to push us to ask the questions and not assume; be educated and not just gain our knowledge from what other people are saying. Heck ask the farmer... and in this state, you can!
You might recall the smiling farmers in overalls from books you read as a child, or you may be familiar with commodity reports on the evening news, illustrated with sweeping video of combines crawling across sunlit fields. Perhaps you’ve only heard about farming through confusing and unscientific coverage of issues like GMOs or herbicides on “health” blogs or talk shows.
As you might expect, the story of farming (and farmers) is much richer and more complicated than what is often portrayed through the media. Consequently, a better, more complete telling of the “farming story” could go a long way to clearing up misunderstandings and calming fears related to health and environmental issues in agriculture. Indeed, we could transform hyperbole and heated debate into a reasonable discussion simply by sharing the real-world experiences of farmers and agriculture experts and focusing attention on facts and solid science.
Farming is not only a job; it’s a lifestyle and a mission. It’s an American tradition practiced by a relative few who love what they do and take seriously the responsibility they have to help feed the world. They must deal with economic ups and downs and cope with complications beyond their control, such as weather extremes, insects and disease, government bureaucracies and selling products to constantly changing foreign markets. Contrary to some stereotypes, they must adjust to change quickly and stay on top of the latest technology and science (in many cases far more so than the average consumer or businessperson).
Like most of you, farmers care deeply about their families, their animals, their health, and the health of our planet. It’s for this reason that recent controversies surrounding farming are so troubling. Farmers have a vested interest in producing safe and healthy products for consumption, because their families consume what they grow and raise. They have a deep and passionate love for the earth and animals, because these things are the foundations of their livelihood.
If you hear about farming directly from the farmers and if you learn about the science of agriculture from those who study it and practice it, you will begin to see the bigger farming picture in Arkansas and America. You will understand that there is always more to a story – and more sides to an issue – than is commonly portrayed or discussed in the public sphere. That is why our Arkansas Farm Bureau summer Officers and Leaders conference was developed around the theme “Be Vocal.” We wanted our members and leaders to understand that they must tell their stories and share their thoughts on farming and farming issues with farming friends and neighbors and, frankly, with anyone who will listen. We believe that this type of sharing and an open dialogue about how and why our food is grown is critically important to the future of our industry.
The simple fact of the matter is that there is a lot of misinformation out there and there is very little of the “real story” of agriculture reaching consumers. For example, some people have a tendency to lump farming into a “big business” category because they’ve heard rhetoric about “factory farms” and “corporate agriculture.” While there are certainly a number of large companies active in the agricultural sphere, it is the family farmer and the small farmer who dominate, particularly in Arkansas. Statistics show that more than 95 percent of Arkansas farms are family farms, not corporate farms, according to USDA data.
The findings of two major, national surveys about how our food is grown were released a few years ago through “The Food Dialogues,” a town hall-style discussion presented by U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Those opinion surveys of both farmers and the general public showed that, overwhelmingly, farmers and ranchers “share the same values as consumers on issues related to environmental stewardship and animal care.” In addition, the surveys revealed that 72 percent of consumers “know nothing or very little about farming or ranching,” but that 70 percent say purchase decisions “are affected by how food is grown and raised.” In short, people care a great deal about where their food comes from, but they know almost nothing about it. We want people to know where their food comes from and we want them to know the farmers and ranchers – the good people and families – who provide the food. We want consumers to be educated and we want everyone to understand all sides of the issues, and the only way for any of this to happen is for farmers to share their stories and say their piece.
This is why we continue to push our Arkansas farmers, agricultural researchers and experts, and anyone who makes their living in a field related to agriculture to stand up and “be vocal.” It is also why I’m asking all of the rest of you to take a moment and listen to what they have to say. Simply put, if you want to know more about your food and the sustainability practices used to produce it, ask an expert: ask a farmer or rancher.
This post is part of the #NWArkCares series by the
Northwest Arkansas Bloggers group. To view other posts, visit the Northwest
Arkansas Bloggers Pinterest Board or follow #NWArkCares through social media.
ARKANSAS FARM BUREAU
The Voice of Agriculture, informing consumers about the food production
provided by Arkansas’ farmers and ranchers. We work to achieve
educational improvement, economic opportunity, social advancement and
promote national well-being.