Part 4: It takes effort to keep America farming

Ambivalence to and ignorance of American agriculture leads to government policies that encourage urban encroachment on prime agricultural farmland, such as the case in California's fertile Central Valley. © Todd Fitchette

I’m working from memory of more than a decade ago, so bear with me…

I once worked for an agricultural organization that proudly published a weekly newspaper. This was no small feat, particularly at the time, as I’m sure it is even today, because it required a significant amount of capital and purpose from the board of directors that had previously not been expressed.

I say “proudly” because there was no other similar organization that had, as its purpose, a willingness beyond the simple desire of thinking this might be a good idea, to actively inform its grass-roots membership and the public as frequently as every Friday about the positive aspects of agriculture and how farming and ranching is woven into America’s fabric, our culture and our economy. As far as I know, there still is no county Farm Bureau organization in the United States that publishes a weekly newspaper for its membership and the community at large.

Ever since the early 1970s, farmers and ranchers in Stanislaus County, California have purposefully dedicated a significant amount of the county’s Farm Bureau budget towards this endeavor. I wasn’t part of this genesis, but later enjoyed the fruits of this labor while working as the editor of the county Farm Bureau newspaper, the Stanislaus Farm News.

Maybe that’s what agriculture needs today: a focused, purposeful and committed drive to do more than simply tell fluffy stories to the consuming public about agriculture in their neighborhood. In a big-picture sense, American agriculture needs to take on the same attitude as the early directors of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau did, and devote the capital necessary to take their story to the streets with the goal of changing cultural attitudes towards agriculture in a positive way.

The examples and complaints are endless from within agriculture. For instance, I’ve heard dairymen complain loudly about the amount of money that is confiscated from their milk checks for advertising and marketing programs that arguably doesn’t help them sell more milk (shouldn’t that be the stated goal of the dairy industry at large?).

So where are the major food processors and manufacturers on issues such as this? Is it enough that some of them have their own internally-produced products that simply preach to the choir and not make it out to the consuming public who is responsible for making sure shareholders have a return on their investment?

Where are, for example, the boards of directors of Kraft, Dole, Land O’Lakes, Dairy Farmers of America, and others on the idea of devoting significant capital towards educating and informing their consumers about the safe production of the various products they sell? How come the soda and juice companies spend so much on trying to get new consumers and keep current ones, while the dairy industry, for example, can’t seem to do the same thing?

I’m not talking merely about the Happy Cow ads that domestic terrorists such as PETA like to attack for being untruthful and misleading (I guess they’re too busy attacking agriculture to ponder the same thing regarding beer companies and their commercials). I’m talking about a concerted effort, with radically new ideas, to help consumers develop an awareness to the cultural level that the food they consume is not only safe and good, but that it’s vital to their very economic and sociological well being. I’ve said this before and it bears repeating: a strong and vital American agricultural economy is vital to our national security and sovereignty.

Anyone who’s ever lived in small-town America knows full well that many of the contributors to local sporting programs such as Little League and the high school sports programs are farmers and ranchers. These folks don’t just send their kids off to play a particular sport, but they oftentimes step up to the plate with hundreds or thousands of dollars annually to ensure that their children and their neighbor’s children have what they need to participate in a particular sport.

It’s going to take efforts like this, large and small, for American agriculture to achieve the cultural shift it needs in order to keep America farming and not cede its production to other nations that do not have America’s best interests at heart.

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