Monday, March 1, 2010

Driving Trucks


(Wrote this piece hoping for publication on a national, conservative women's blog site. I'll let you know how that goes.)

Here in the
Midwest, we drive trucks. Everyone – well, almost everyone – drives a truck. And not because it’s a matter of style; rather, it’s a matter of necessity.

We haul hay bales and feed to the livestock. We pull trailers and implements. We haul fuel to the fields. We haul buckets and bags of seed and fencing supplies and tires and produce to the farmer’s market. Besides, how else would the high school football team get down Main Street for the Homecoming parade? And where would our dogs ride?

Our farmers drive them, of course. But so do our lawyers, teachers, politicians and bankers. Again, not for fashion, but function.

Out here, you see, we are part of a growing minority. We are – or are very closely connected to – the remaining 3% of our country’s population who are the food producers. We grow the wheat, corn and soybeans, and we raise the cattle, pigs and chickens that help to feed our nation.

But for the remaining 97% of our country, truck driving and wheat farming are becoming quite foreign. In fact, it has gone so far that it seems food producers and food consumers no longer speak the same language.

Even I fall into that guilty “consumer” column. My husband and I were just debating in the kitchen the other day about the difference in brown sugar and white sugar. I didn’t know where brown sugar came from. What I did know was that brown sugar is more popular among the “eat-healthy” advocates. But, even I didn’t know if brown sugar came from beets or cane, or how the sugar was refined and processed. (I have since done my homework.)

So it begs the question: If I, Kansas farm-girl, don’t know about the sources of food I use every day, how can those in more urban places, and those generations-removed from the farm, be expected to know and understand where their food comes from?

The gap is widening. The disconnect between producer and consumer, rural and urban is growing. And if we continue on the present course, our voice may be lost for good. Lost to an urban consumer whose food choices are en vogue, yet who lack a full understanding of how that food made the trek from farm to table and who may be unaware of how weather, world markets and politics played into the choices available to them at the grocery store.

What to do?

We can start by simply telling our story. The tools at our fingertips, literally at our fingertips, can put us in touch with that other 97% in nanoseconds. To a fault, we have been slower to adapt to the latest in Internet and social media technology. And beyond that, we’re still waiting for broadband service to reach every corner of my state. That’s not an excuse, just an admission of fact. But for those with access, the tools exist to make our story heard instantly.

But even telling the story can be a big leap for our truck-driving culture. People simply tend to be a bit more quiet in this middle section of the country, and furthermore, all those tied to the agricultural industry.

The best farmers and ranchers I know are humble, quiet, and devoted to the land and animals they serve. They tend to their soil while honoring the generations who have gone before them and preserving the land for future generations. Ranchers, livestock producers, dairymen and women, all care for their animals and see to their well being before taking care of themselves.

Yet, there is energy growing behind an anti-animal agriculture movement. And livestock producers have found themselves on the defensive, and a bit unprepared for the far-slinging tactics of a bigger, louder, angrier agenda. Energy continues to grow in the conventional agriculture versus organic agriculture debate. On the surface, organic production seems the gentle victor. But do consumers fully understand the production practices behind organic foods enough to justify paying premium prices?

So you should expect the volume to be turned up on the stories coming from the production sector. And you should expect to hear stories about men and women passionate about producing food; and stories of communities and families working so hard to preserve a rural culture; and of people who honor the land and respect the animals because it’s the right thing to do and because it also happens to make good business-sense. And you should listen. As the mother and chief-grocery-getter in my household, I intend to listen. I would prefer to hear about my food from its source; not from an exaggerated story spun in an urban office building.

Beyond growing soybeans and raising pigs, we also grow a lot of common sense in the Midwest. And be prepared, because just as soon as we figure out how to package it and sell it, we’re going to start hauling it to the cities in our pick-up trucks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very clever Sarah! You've always been the best writer! Tell them to hurry up with their message...these urbanites I live with need another source of information. They're basing their decisions on a very one-sided story! Les