Let me tell you a story of two couples. Couple A is well-educated, traveled, and liberal. They both have humanities degrees from prestigious colleges. They spent a few years living abroad to gain perspective and get the wanderlust out. They were both involved in marching band, and enjoy reading and playing board games in their free time. Now for Couple B. They both grew up in the countryside and after marrying young now live in a little farmhouse in the country. They were both involved in 4-H and are now in the Farm Bureau, a mostly conservative organization. She is a teacher at the local school and he is a welder. In their free time they enjoy going to tractor pulls and car shows.
Many people would say that these two couples are awfully different and don’t have a lot in common. I would agree with that, except that we are both Couple A and B. Crazy, I know. There are days I don’t quite believe it myself, but each one of those things I wrote about those two couples is true of Jordan and I. It does sometimes seem as if I have been two people in my life already, and harmonizing one with the other can be tricky.
This has led me to occupy a unique place in the agriculture world. One half of me identifies with the crunchy, foodie, ‘back to the land’ types while the other half is a ‘salt of the earth,’ country farmer who wants people to leave farmers alone so they can do their jobs. Mix the two of those with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a hefty dose of science literacy and I have become what could be considered an equal opportunity offender.
Let me explain what I mean by this. I believe strongly in animal welfare so I oppose the use of gestation crates in pork production, however I am not opposed to giving an animal the best treatment science has made available when the animal is sick so as to reduce suffering and the spread of disease. I believe strongly that soil health holds important answers for the future of humanity and I therefore oppose the use of certain chemicals that undermine healthy soil biomes, and on that same note oppose the organic farmer’s use of the plow for weed control as that is almost worse. Am I making friends yet?
When I got my job as a high school agriculture teacher and my students found out what kind of farming I do, they made it clear that they thought my “organic” methods were a little crazy. I never even told them I was organic (because we aren’t), but the mere hinting that I thought organic wasn’t all bad and conventional wasn’t all good was evidence enough. On the flip side, when “organic types” hear that I am an agriculture teacher and they think I am on their “side” they are quick to ask whether I teach organic or “sustainable” methods in school. My answer usually dumbfounds them; “I teach my students that the most important things are healthy soil, healthy animals, and healthy communities, and that there are lots of ways to achieve those things.”
So by now you’re probably getting the sense that it’s lonely being me and I don’t have many friends in agriculture. The tagline I have given myself over the years is, “conventional people think I’m crazy, and organic people think I’m a sellout.” But here’s where the good part comes in. You could call me an equal opportunity offender, or you could call me a unifying force. Because while there are definitely practices I disagree with and wouldn’t use on my own farm, I understand why people make those decisions for themselves and their farm and family.
I get it, a lot more than most. Many of my friends own certified organic farms and they do a great job, but I also spent a year teaching English at the largest dairy farm in the state and know a lot more about how that place is run than most, and they do a great job, too. When my students present me with a practice that they have seen and want my opinion on, my first goal is to always try to understand why the farmer made that decision and what perspective led them there. And by showing my students that there is merit and potential in agricultural practices across the spectrum I hope that they can also be unifiers in a world that badly needs them.
But back to that loneliness, it is true that I have often felt like I didn’t belong anywhere on the agricultural spectrum. The conventional side is too quick to dismiss alternatives or acknowledge that agriculture has any problems and the alternative side is too quick to believe in things that aren’t true either by demonizing conventional or ascribing to woo-woo. However, I have found a few allies over the years. One of them recently remarked that they wished agriculture didn’t have “sides.” And they are so right. Because when less than 2% of the nation can call themselves a farmer and the world is nearly literally going down in flames, we have bigger fish to fry.
Agriculture, good or bad, is going to drastically affect the future of the planet. Agriculture can and will affect climate change, the economy, water availability, and whether people live or die. That is why I continually make the choice to be an agriculture teacher and not give up on farming when some days moving back to the city and getting a desk job sounds really nice. Agriculture is just too important, because it has to save the world.
This salvation, however, is going to take all of agriculture. It will not only come from the organic farmers who have valiantly tried to find alternatives to the ills they saw, and it will not only come from conventional farmers who have worked miracles in the name of progress. The agricultural village may be widespread, but it is small, and it is going to require all of us to care for the planet that is under our stewardship. And that is why I am encouraged that I am starting to find more and more unifying voices in agriculture that want to work towards these common goals regardless of farm type or size.
So where does that leave us, specifically Jordan and I? Well, I am going to make you a promise. It is something we have lived by for a while but haven’t articulated out loud. When you log on to our farm website or social media, you won’t see us going negative. There are a lot of farms out there that promote their products by using fear or putting other farmers down, and we won’t. We will do our best to explain the practices we choose with honesty, science, and positivity. We believe in what we do, but know that every other farmer out there believes in what they do, too. We believe there are real problems in agriculture and the environment that you should know about, but we want to focus on fixing them rather than pointing fingers. Maybe you will find this lack of inflammatory language dull, but I don’t know how you could find a feed full of cute animals and delicious food boring.
So with that, I want to thank you for reading this far and hope you will join us on our quest for a positive, unified agriculture that provides healthy food, animals, soil, and communities.