I spent a lot of time on the road last week, driving and thinking. Thinking and driving. And I got to thinking how I feel so irritated sometimes at the accusations thrown at farmers. Either that we're (obviously) mistreating our animals or (obviously) polluting the environment or (obviously) poisoning everyone or (obviously) not smart enough to make good choices.
It kinda wears me out sometimes. It's kinda made me step back from social media lately, where the cacophony of yelling voices is just overwhelming sometimes. And while I want to be aware of what's being said about agriculture, I don't want it to skew reality – which is that those extremists are a small part of the population. A reminder to myself that the crazy people who came out on Twitter when Monsanto tagged me in a tweet about a food safety story I'd done – and said things about me that are flat-out not repeatable – that they are just not the majority. That the people who shout-tweeted angry accusations about the #farm365 deal are not the voice of the majority. That the majority likes bacon.
But here's the thing: I think this conversation has helped us be better farmers. I think having consumers take an interest in what we do has caused us to think more deeply about how we apply fertilizers, about the ways we protect our crops, about the crops we grow.
We haven't changed things, necessarily. But we've examined why we do what we do, we've had to explain it, and most of all, we've taken a moment to look back at where we've come from.
We've recognized that we use 37% less energy to grow a bushel of corn than we did 30 years ago.
We grow five times more corn on 20% less land than we did in the 1930s.
We produce meat, dairy and poultry for the population on less than half the land it took to raise the same amount 45 years ago.
We grow 260% more food with fewer inputs than we did in 1950.
We all know now that each farmer feeds 155 people today, while our farming grandparents fed just 26 in 1960.
We've cut erosion by 50% since 1982 (which I especially love, because that conversation was a big part of my young life on the farm).
So what I'm saying is, I'm glad we've had the conversation. I'm glad farmers have had to engage and defend what they do. I think it's caused a lot of us to re-engage with the consumers who eat our products, even if we're not selling at a farm stand. It's made me drive to Chicago and meet some really great women.
And, I think it's engaged a lot of farm women into blogging and using their natural communication skills to talk about their farm. It's given a generation of women a voice, where they might not have felt as useful on the farm prior to this conversation.
So what do farmers want from consumers now? As a farmer, I would like a consumer who asks questions but ultimately trusts our agricultural expertise. Questions make us better; continuous doubt wastes our time and energy.
Maybe a doctor would say the same thing? Maybe there's a lot to be critiqued regarding our culture of "self-expertise" – the one that says, "I researched it," which really means, "I've read 20 stories on the Internet which may or may not be true."
So what we're asking for here is a little understanding. A little trust. A little recognition that farmers might know a thing or two about the industry they've poured themselves into. The chance to show them what farmers do, without a pre-conceived HSUS-approved notion. The chance to answer their questions – good questions, that need and deserve good answers.
Trust but verify. And farmers would sure be glad to help with the verify part.