I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. A vibrant agricultural economy in America is much more than just farmers and ranchers doing what they do to feed the rest of us; American agriculture and our ability to be agriculturally self-sufficient is vital to our national sovereignty.
I was reading a recent speech California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger gave at the organization’s annual meeting last December. Wenger called on California’s farmers and ranchers to “reclaim California” by having a plan, and that is to make political action a priority and part of farmers and ranchers individual business plans. In short, Wenger asked farmers and ranchers to stop merely complaining and to put feet and dollars into action to prevent California agriculture from becoming extinct.
“If everyone in agriculture doesn’t get involved, others will — and they will be the ones setting the political and regulatory agenda you will have to face in the coming years.” ~ CFBF President Paul Wenger
For years California business interests have been fighting against a version of what we see nationally in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. Urban interests have long been at odds against rural and agricultural interests. Given that the votes and numbers lie with the urban groups (including the environmentalist movement), it’s not difficult to see where farmers and ranchers fall on this spectrum.
I realize that Wenger’s speech needed to be in broad terms and motivational for the several hundred Farm Bureau members in attendance. I was not there, so I cannot say how his address was received, or what discussions might have taken place in response to his address. I do know this, however, from working as an “outsider” in agriculture: farmers and ranchers need more “outsiders” inside their circles if they’re going to be successful in a world charged with political slogans and run by people who haven’t the slightest idea what it truly takes to fill their food pantries, refrigerators and stock their favorite restaurants with the food they like.
What do I mean by the term “outsider?” Let me tell a personal story.
I didn’t grow up on a farm. I did grow up in a rural part of California and was exposed to farming and ranching operations, however, my dad provided for us by busting his knuckles on automobiles and heavy equipment.
I enlisted in the Army out of high school as a stepping stone to college; I needed money for college and the Army offered me that. College provided me access to a degree in journalism and an education in a few other fields, including philosophy and photography.
It was through journalism that I was exposed even more to agricultural operations. My job required me to ask questions and try to understand what farmers and ranchers were about if I was going to effectively communicate their message to my readers. It’s also where I gained a fascination for agriculture and what it takes to put the food I like to eat on my plate. Journalism also gave me great insights into politics, which likewise piqued an interest within me that I have to this day.
Over the years I’ve worked in and out of agriculture, writing for ag-based publications and for general circulation newspapers. Both genres, if you will, allowed me to discover interests and hone my ideals and beliefs. As my interest piqued in agriculture and politics, I was fortunate enough to be able to blend the two while working for a county Farm Bureau in California. Some of that work even included the opportunity to work and talk with Paul Wenger as his participation and influence in Farm Bureau circles grew.
Outsiders to agriculture have a unique perspective that insiders (farmers, ranchers and those directly related to them) may not, particularly if the outsider can develop an understanding for what goes on within farming and ranching. Moreover, the person who can see how other issues are connected to agriculture, the more informative that person can be if he or she also has the skills to communicate them. We see the good and the bad of the various situations and, while we might hold a strong belief in and respect for farmers and ranchers, and what they have to endure to harvest a crop or produce a commodity, we also enjoy the view from the vantage point of a consumer of those agricultural commodities.
While Wenger doesn’t come out and say it directly, I would like to think that he understands the need for allies (outsiders) from a whole host of areas not directly related to agriculture, and the need to educate them in a language that they can understand. These allies will become important as Farm Bureau develops and implements its plan, with the end result being the improvement of conditions that allow for a vibrant and successful agricultural economy, and the furthering of America’s ability to be agriculturally self-sufficient.