Our Agriculture Legacy: Why We Need to Start Telling Our Own Stories

According to Payscale.com less than 2% of Americans are directly employed by the agriculture industry. Yet there are many more people and jobs throughout the United States (and the world for that matter) which are dependent on it. Approximately 1 in 12 American jobs is directly related to agribusiness. While there are too many jobs to list, a few of these include food safety, food science, packaging, conservation, transportation, veterinary science and ag aviation.

Ag Pilot Andy Stein.  Photo by Andy SteinAg Pilot Andy Stein. Photo by Andy Stein
Sarah Hulick from Full Harvest    Photo by Unknown.Sarah Hulick from Full Harvest Photo by Unknown.

The current trend among consumers today shows a strong interest in knowing more about how their food is grown and where it is coming from. Celebrities have seized the opportunity to jump on this bandwagon appearing to be experts.  I encourage anyone who wants to champion a cause that is near and dear to your heart. However, before starting you have an inherent responsibility to find out the facts first.  This includes thoroughly investigating your concerns while being fair and impartial. An influencer owes it to everyone to show integrity by telling the truth and being accountable to the information they disseminate.

An influencer is defined as a thought leader who often sets trends among a receptive audience. According to Mediakix.com “one of the reasons influencers have such an outstanding rapport with their followers is because they establish expertise in niches that appeal to a hyper targeted audience.”   Over the past few weeks, it has been frustrating watching celebrities and politicians using social media and public events to elevate themselves as an influencer on the foods we eat.

The recent video that surfaced of Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg was not received well within the agriculture industry. Bloomberg said “I can teach anybody, even the people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer. It is a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water and up comes the corn.”

 According to Dictionary.com one definition of a farmer is “unsophisticated person from a rural area.”

The sad part about that definition and Bloomberg’s comment is that I am certain these beliefs are shared by others as well. Why? Because the people who are involved in growing and producing the food that we eat are humble and unpretentious about the important work they do. Most of the time their work goes unacknowledged despite the critical role they play in the sustenance of life.

Farmers or rather growers as we refer to them in the agriculture business do more than dig holes and plant seeds. To define a farmer as unsophisticated is a misnomer. The skill set needed to be successful varies widely depending on what type of farming is done. However, some basic skills include knowledge of the crops and soil, understanding weather conditions, irrigation practices and pesticide use. Growers must be mechanically inclined so they can repair their own equipment. Farming also requires growers to be business and tech savvy, enabling them to learn new technology for crop production, harvesting, and sustainable farming practices to name a few. 

Avocado Grower Tony BucioAvocado Grower Tony Bucio
Photo by Andy SteinPhoto by Andy Stein
Photo by John KalendarPhoto by John Kalendar

Their workday usually begins before sunrise and finishes well after sunset, 7 days a week. The crops they grow dictate when they can have the luxury of a day off.

 Agriculture is not their job but rather it is their lifestyle.

It is understandable why someone may want to know how and where their food is grown. It is equally important for us to recognize and acknowledge the essential people who are involved in bringing food from the farms to our tables.

Throughout the last 30 years, I have learned a lot about the process and the people who produce our food. This I know to be true: these people have their own life challenges and despite these they are passionate and dedicated to their vocation and their community. They are unassuming, considerate and care for the world beyond themselves. They are not seeking accolades. They do the work because the work itself is important enough.

Recently, the agriculture industry has been under intense scrutiny from influencers. The information being circulated by some of them is inaccurate, yet their followers will accept this as truth without fact checking. A quick ‘share’ and this misinformation goes viral. It is difficult to reverse people’s opinions and perceptions once they have been established. This is one of the primary reason growers tend to stay away from any kind of media attention.

Herdsman Makayla Toste  Photo by Cary EdmondsonHerdsman Makayla Toste Photo by Cary Edmondson

We have a lot to learn from the individuals and families who have built up agriculture. Who will pass down their legacy to the next generation if we don’t start sharing their stories?  

Author Kindra Hall said, “tell your stories first, otherwise someone might tell them for you, and you may not like their version.”   

The recent outbreak of the Covid19 virus has impacted food availability throughout the United States. Americans are accustomed to living in the land of excess especially with food. We are not familiar with the sight of empty shelves in supermarkets. Suddenly, there has become a greater sense of appreciation for our farmers and ranchers. Now that we have everyone’s attention, this is the perfect time for us to start sharing the stories of the different people involved in our food production.