This past week I had the incredible opportunity to join agriculture commodity groups from across the country in Orlando for a conference hosted by the Center for Food Integrity. Let me tell you, I LIVE for these kinds of things. There's something about being in a room filled with your people – like minded individuals who have dedicated their lives to the same cause, in this case, telling the story of agriculture. After being at conferences like this, I always come home on a high, re-energized and inspired by my colleagues to pursue new ideas and projects.
On the last day of our conference, we had seven individuals join us for a consumer panel. These individuals were from the Orlando area, between the ages of 20-40, did not come from an agricultural background, and were selected from a survey based on their concerns with on-farm practices. They were given minimal information about who we were in the crowd (farmers and agriculture communicators) with the goal that their answers would be authentic and honest, not swayed by their perception of how they thought we might react.
The greatest and most shocking lesson I learned from the panelists was that anecdotal evidence carries more weight than science. By definition, “anecdotal evidence is based on hearsay rather than hard facts.” But wait, I thought that we learned in school that anecdotes were less reliable than science? Short, personal stories of reference are not representative of the larger picture, yet in agriculture here we are repeatedly defending ourselves based on what a few people have said or claimed. I think this shift in thinking has stemmed from a media and marketing trend of creating and capitalizing on mistrust and skepticism. There are many examples, from documentaries to marketing campaigns that have instilled fear and caused misunderstanding of the food industry based on anecdotal evidence or misguided “science.” Like it or not, anecdotal evidence matters. The story from “So-and-So” about "that one time they ate that one thing and this one thing happened" or "that one time I heard from a friend that blah blah blah…" THESE are the stories and pieces of “evidence” that stick in people’s brains, especially if they are scary.
To be completely honest, listening to the consumer panel was painful at times. I had white knuckles gripping my chair in hopes that releasing my frustration under the table would help prevent my face from turning up in horror or offense. Some of the things they said were hard to hear. When they repeatedly used words like "deceptive" or "crooked" when referring to the agriculture industry, to hear them say they mistrusted not only regulatory bodies but some family farmers as well, for them to admit that the opinion of a review on Yelp held more weight in their mind than the professional opinion of a PhD... It was alarming, mortifying, and exactly what I needed to hear.
I'm not sure why it shocked me so much. I knew these perceptions of agriculture existed and I've encountered them many times before. I guess sometimes when you are surrounded by a circle of like-minded people long enough you forget some of the outside ideas that you used to hear on a daily basis. I value, respect, and truly appreciate the perspectives shared by the consumer panel and I know they aren't coming from a place of malice, but rather a place of fear and desire to understand what is best for them, their families, and the world. This was the perfect reminder of why my job as a voice for agriculture really matters.
Just within one week after the conference, I received these four messages from different friends. In many of my friend groups, I am the “Token Ag Friend” so messages like these aren’t out of the ordinary. After receiving these messages and pasting them together, I had a realization...
I am anecdotal evidence.
I am an example of farming and agriculture and while I might not be representative of the whole, I am the personal connection that many people have to their food. When one my friends are asked about cattle ranching or beef, they can share with their friends, “Well, my friend Kiah has a cattle ranch and she said…” Being the anecdotal evidence is an honor, and in many ways is a great responsibility. The greatest tool I have is being able to share my own personal agriculture narrative and my experiences and knowledge having grown up on a ranch. If it is these short, personal stories and tidbits that my friends hear from me, or experiences that they take with them after visiting my ranch or another farm, it’s important that I am able to share an honest, positive view of agriculture. For many, I am their only connection and for that reason, I vow to fully embrace my "farm goddess."
Hearing real stories from real people is often times more impactful than reading statistics in a peer-reviewed journal. I am so inspired by my fellow agriculturalists from across the country openly sharing their world and life in agriculture and I am honored to be a small part of it. If you want to meet (virtually) some of America’s amazing farmers and ranchers telling their stories, check out this list of farm and ag bloggers!
For more from the CFI conference, check out this article.
Farming and ranching is hard work - absolutely no questions about it. It is a career that many clock into as a kid and don’t clock out of until they’re pushing up daisies.
Farming and ranching can be inconsistent and unpredictable with unreliable weather and fluctuating markets. It is strenuous manual labor, long hours, and often times uncomfortable. There are no days off and overtime is a laughable concept. Some days, manure happens.
With all of this being so, why on EARTH would any person dedicate their life to such a thing?
It is not for the fainthearted and Lord knows it is not for everyone. But let me tell you a secret… farmers and ranchers do what they do because they love it. Agriculture is a labor of love, driven not by greed but by PASSION.
No, it is not all rainbows and butterflies, but beyond the blood, sweat, and tears that come with the job description there are plenty of feel-good “warm and fuzzies” of farming.
Allow me to share a handful.
2. Fresh Food
You know how your mom’s home cooking somehow is always the best? Well, home grown/raised anything is kind of that way too. Maybe it’s the freshness that makes it taste so good, or maybe it’s just your mind telling you it tastes better because it was your hands and hard work that grew it. Either way, it’s delightful.
3. S p a c e
*cue the Dixie Chicks "Wide Open Spaces"*
Imagine a world where your neighbors are fields away instead of feet away, a place where the sound of tires on gravel takes place of doorbells and the only thing obstructing your views are the views themselves. While other people have to take vacations to get peace and quite, farmers and ranchers live it every day. Morning strolls consist of rolling hills, open fields, and fresh air rather than stop lights and sirens. If you grew up on a farm or ranch, it's likely that moving to a town or city would be a bit of an adjustment. While the convenience of walking to the grocery store is nice, the serenity that comes from rural living is good for the soul.
If your neighbors aren’t already your relatives, it is likely that they are close enough to feel like family. All it takes is a quick phone call to someone down the road if you get stuck in the mud, need a cup of sugar, or just need an extra person to play cards. As a farmer or rancher, you are adopted into a community and family that extends far beyond your front door. Even though they may not always see eye to eye, they always have each other’s backs.
About 97% of U.S. farms and ranches are family owned, many of which have been in the family for generations. Agriculture is a profession, a lifestyle, and for many it is also a tradition. There is something special about flipping through old black and white photos listening to your grandparents talk about "good ol' days" on the homestead, or maybe watching as the little ones ride a horse for the first time or proudly head out for morning chores with daddy. Yes, agriculture is an industry, profession, and lifestyle but more than that it is a story written by the generations of men and women that have worked the land. Having deep roots and ties to the land is a special relationship well known by those in agriculture and one so few outside of it ever truly experience.
Less than 2% of the U.S. population is directly involved in farming or ranching. Thanks to the dedicated men and women with a passion for what they do, others are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams and passions without worrying about growing food for their own table. At the end of the day, farmers and ranchers can be proud. They put in a hard day's work not only to provide for their family, but to provide for someone else’s as well. One farmer today feeds more than 155 people! Now THAT is something to be proud of.
How this popular slogan applies to agriculture... kind of.
If you have ever worked in retail, food service, or really anywhere that has to do with selling or supplying something, odds are your boss has told you at one time, “The customer is always right.” (I truly hope that if you are in the medical field, however, that this does not apply.) This slogan makes customer satisfaction of utmost importance, and satisfied customers = returning customers.
This got me thinking… in the agriculture industry, does this slogan still apply?
Whether selling food at the local farmers market or a contractor to a larger food supplier or distributor, at the end of the day farmers and ranchers have the same customer: the everyday consumer.
Consumers are on one side growing more disconnected from agriculture (the average American being 3 generations removed from a farm) and on the other side consumers are becoming increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from and how it is produced. In many ways, this is exciting! In other ways, it is difficult.
Recently the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) conducted a study on three consumer groups: moms, millennials, and foodies. As CFI project manager Allyson Perry said, “When we did the research, we thought agriculture had an image issue, but then we discovered that, no, agriculture has a trust issue.” **
Consumers deserve more credit than I think some farmers and ranchers tend to give them. For one, they are what drive the entire food industry after all. If consumers decided one day that they didn’t like oranges any more, guess what? Orange farmers would probably start planting something else. Consumers overall aren’t dumb or ill-willed. Their worries don’t have the baseline intention of discrediting agriculturalists, but come from a place of deep concern and honest desire to give themselves and their families the safest and most nutritious food.
So are the customers, or in this case, consumers, always right?
Yes, and no.
Farmers and ranchers have been pretty good at listening to their customers. For example, why do you think there are now 39 cuts of lean beef? Is it because a group of cattle decided to join the Crossfit bandwagon? As entertaining as the image is, it’s actually because the beef industry has catered to the increasing consumer desire for lean protein.
When I hear consumers claim that eating red meat is causing infertility or that agricultural chemical companies are trying to poison the world, I’m not so gung-ho on the idea that the “customers are always right.”
Many agriculturalists are frustrated. Their customer base is more reliant on their accountant neighbor, Mary Kay selling cousin, fellow mommy blogger, or Zumba classmate for advice on issues related to food than they are on the farmers themselves. Statistics, science, and decades of research are up against popularized, misleading infographic Facebook posts and tweets shared rapidly by the thousands.
But let’s face it, the majority of people connect to other people better than they do numbers, stories are more intriguing than a research analysis, and recommendations from a friend carry more weight than a company’s.
So where do we go from here?
Consumer fears and worries should be validated. I’m not saying they should be reinforced or perpetuated if they stem from misunderstanding, but they deserve to be addressed at the very least. Telling consumers that they are simply wrong dismisses their concerns and further wedges the gap between consumers and producers.
Perry also mentioned that agriculture has been focused on “educating” consumers rather than connecting with them. **
Consumers want to hear the story of the third generation farm family dedicated to growing fresh produce or the professional football player whose passion is raising chickens. They are intrigued by the engineer that reinvented the way farmers irrigate their crops or the woman who revolutionized animal handling practices for the entire agriculture industry. They want to see the photos of farm kids learning how to milk their cows or read a blog about what happens in the day of the life of a pig farmer.
Sure, it’s incredible to see the improvements that agriculture has made over the years in terms of increased efficiency and environmental stewardship, BUT the most incredible thing about agriculture are the people within it.
Agriculture needs to meet consumers where they are, online, and put the people back into food.
I'm an extrovert, people person, and social butterfly maybe to a fault. I get my energy from others and I’m happiest when I’m with people, friends or strangers.
A side effect of my constant longing for social interaction has lead to my self diagnosis of a severe case of FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out.
Missing family functions, parties, impromptu hang outs, game nights, or basically anything remotely exciting or fun gives me a major FOMO flare up. Having friends and family in different parts of the world is great, but only adds to it because, unfortunately against my truest wishes, I can only be in one place at one time.
Perhaps you or someone you know is living with similar symptoms of severe FOMO. If the following applies to you, fear not for you are not alone.
14 Signs of Severe FOMO
1. A piece of your soul dies when you know you’re missing out on a party or event… but you continue to torture yourself by constantly checking Snapchat and social media to feel like you’re a part of it.
2. The first time you have to miss out on a tradition, your heart silently breaks. The first family holidays away from home are arguably THE WORST.
3. You sacrifice things like sleep for the sake of social interaction... It’s 11pm when your friend calls from the bar summoning you to join, but you have to get up early for a work meeting… You can sleep when you’re dead right?
4. You are the go-to person of your friends when they need a wing(wo)man for the night because they know it’s extremely rare for you to say no.
5. That being said, people always assume something is terribly wrong if you deny an invitation to do something.
6. You have a hard time focusing on something if you hear laughter in the other room that you aren’t a part of. “What happened? Did I miss something? Fill me in. I want to laugh too.”
7. Normal people have nightmares about dying or monsters, but you have nightmares about losing your keys and showing up to a party after it’s over.
8. You repeatedly check your calendar for free weekends to visit friends, but finding a job to fully support your travel desires is next to impossible. Your mason jar travel fund on your dresser keeps you hopeful.
9. Sitting at home doing nothing on a weekend gives you anxiety because you know there is fun to be had somewhere that you may be missing out on.
10. You struggle with resisting to text people so you don’t become a pest and incessantly checking in on what they’re doing to make sure they aren’t having fun without you.
11. You have to consciously remind yourself that some people need breaks from social interaction. You mean, not everyone wants to hang out and talk to me all the time? Weird.
12. You love living in a new city and making new friends, but you can’t help but internally weep when you see your friends in pictures back home at your favorite old local spot.
13. Lying on your death bed in pain isn’t even enough to sequester your inner desires to muster up the strength for Sunday-Funday brunch. What if they sip on mimosas and take a basic group selfie without you?
14. The only way to numb your FOMO is to plan something exciting or fun to do as a distraction. Spontaneous roadtrip anyone?
My fellow FOMOers, we're in this together.
Oh, I just had a brilliant idea...
FOMO support group anyone? Sunday? I'll bring the mimosas.
I am a proud California native, perhaps obnoxiously so.
My family has been cattle ranching on the Central Coast for 7 generations.
WHAT?!?! California has more than just surfer bros, Kardashians, and Google?!?!
Why yes, we do. MUCH more. Thank heavens for that.
Yes, there are things about it that I don't miss (like the cost of living and lack of Cracker Barrels), but I will forever be a champion for the beautiful golden state. It has something for everyone whether you prefer big cities, rural farm life, sandy beaches, snowy mountains, or barren deserts. The agriculture is abundant, landscapes are stunning, food is delicious, wine is divine, and the weather is just simply perfection (most of the time).
I have a confession to make though... California I'm cheating on you and there is another state that has recently stole my heart. When I moved here for work about six months ago I had no idea what to expect, and whatever few expectations I had were completely blown out of the water. Nestled between eight surrounding states, the Bluegrass State of Kentucky is an absolute gem and is wildly underrated. It undoubtedly has a piece of my heart, and here are just a few ways it stole it.
I quickly learned that my California definition of barbecue and the southern definition of barbecue are VERY different. To me barbecue is a verb and a noun. Anything that you barbecue on a grill is called barbecue. Kentuckians basically told me to swerve, "You crazy Californian, you've got it all wrong. That's just grilling. If it ain't slow roasted, it ain't barbecue." Well, you learn something new every day, don't you? My only request is that Kentucky join the west coast in our love for tri-tip beef because I'm having massive withdrawals. I know that some people will argue about Kentucky being the best state for barbecue, and to them I say, "Sorry, give me a sec. I'm busy stuffing my face with delicious, tender, slow roasted brisket."
I'm a wine lover through and through and a sucker for German beer, but the heavenly delight of that golden fluid... I CAN'T EVEN. I've only scraped the top of the bourbon barrel, if you will, but I'm aspiring to Pappy Van Winkle levels before I die. High hopes, I know. The only thing that leaves me perplexed is this "dry" county nonsense.. Prohibition was soooo last century. And what the heck is a "moist" county? It is rarely ever okay to even use that word as a descriptor... for anything.
Fireflies/Lightning bugs Whatever the heck those majestic glowing creatures are called.
My coworkers were BAFFLED by the fact that my first time seeing fireflies was my first day in Kentucky. Sure California has the beach and God's gift to mankind (aka In-N-Out Burger)... But no fireflies. While people here probably get over the hype by age 10, with no shame in my game at first sight I was a full grown adult giddy like a little kid on Christmas morning. Bucket list item: √Check. Thanks Kentucky.
Maybe you've heard that Kentucky is the horse capital of the world? Did you know that Kentucky is also the largest beef cattle producing state east of the Mississippi River? As a hub for both horses and cattle, there is some beautiful pasture ground across the state, and it is SO GREEN. Crazy what rain can do, right California?
Listen, I know it might be weird, but one of my favorite parts of the horse and cattle country here are the fences. The wooden plank fences in the rolling hills of the lusciously green Bluegrass GIVE ME LIFE. And don't even get me started about the old rock wall fences, especially the ones along Paris Pike. It's like classic southern charm with a dash of European and I am in love. I do miss the abundance of classic old rusty barbed-wire back home, but you can't have it all.
Y'alls and Drawls
As endearing as "hella" and "right on bro" are, I think I prefer southern drawls and Kentuckyisms much more. I'll admit, I'm still trying to break my California habits like saying, "Shut UP!" when I hear something that surprises or excites me. Baby steps.
I am slowly learning the "correct" way to pronounce things like Louisville (Loo-vull) and finally got over feeling the need to cringe when pronouncing Versailles (Ver-sales). Even when you are insulted here it sounds like the sweetest thing you've ever heard. I know by now what "bless your heart" REALLY means, but I can't help but want to sincerely respond with an "Aw, thank you. That's so sweet." I'm secretly hoping that the southern accent will wear off on me, because I don't think I will ever get sick of it. Y'all are fixin' to make this Californian never wanna leave!
I don't know if I'm actually obsessed with Kentucky, or if Kentuckians are so obsessed with Kentucky that it's contagious. Either way, I'm hooked. And PROUD. Kentucky has a surprising 120 counties (CA is more than 4x the size of KY and only has 58, just sayin') and each one is as unique as the spots on a Holstein cow. Kentuckians don't identify with their hometown, but their home county. I finally caught on, "Hi, I'm Kiah from Fayette county." Am I doing it right?
I live in Lexington, so yes, I tend to favor UK blue. Is it because I'm a huge CATS fan or because I don't want to be the ONLY Lexingtonian not representing on game day? Let's just say I've invested in some spirited garb to blend in with the locals. When I walk into a local store I find it hard not to want to buy every Kentucky themed item there is. Do I need a Kentucky shaped cutting board? No, nobody does. Unlike the perfect cutting board shaped state of Colorado, a Kentucky cutting board is awkward and narrow at one end with inconvenient funky ridges. Do I need to spend $40 on a burlap pillow that I will never use just because it has an adorable Kentucky patch on it? Probably not. But I WANT IT. Because, well, Kentucky y'all.
One of which is Jennifer Lawrence, who I just really want to be friends with. #goals
But in all seriousness...
Southern hospitality is most definitely a thing. A real life thing. The people here are INCREDIBLE. I moved here knowing 1 person but I felt at home almost immediately because the people are generous, welcoming, and sincere. You know that at-home feeling you get when you're in the town you grew up in and you see 12 people you know on a short trip to the grocery store? It feels like that, but everywhere. As a total people person, I LOVE that waving at people and striking up conversations with total strangers is a normal everyday thing here. The casual hour long conversation I had with a preacher the other day while getting my tires changed was nothing out of the ordinary, and that's awesome if you ask me.
Being away from home is hard, that's a fact. I hate having to miss family functions in sunny 75 degree weather while freezing to death in a Snowpocalypse.
I will forever preach that "West Coast = Best Coast," but I thank God every day that fate brought me here, the wonderful state of Kentucky.
Everybody needs a hero—someone they can look up to, a mentor for guidance, an ear for listening, and a person to offer new perspectives.
My hero does not wear a cape. He does not have supernatural powers. He can’t fly. He doesn’t have superhuman strength or speed. He’s never disabled a bomb to save the universe or created a time portal. His sky blue eyes don’t have lasers or telepathic powers, but glisten with life and spirit despite the wrinkles around them.
His super suit most days consists of dark denim jeans, leather bottomed cowboy boots, a long-sleeve western shirt, felt cowboy hat, and on special occasions a boldly colored wild rag.
His superhero name? Well, I call him “Grandpa.”
My grandpa has been one of the most influential people in my life. He’s the type of person you ask one yes or no question and find yourself sitting across from him three cups of coffee and four hours later. He will even tell you himself, “you can never pass up a good audience” and if you are ever lucky enough to meet this incredible man, allow yourself some time—and by time I mean the better part of your day.
He has filled his 83 years with a lot of life, a lot of experiences, and a lot of wisdom.
Here are a few of my favorite bits of wisdom from my superhero rancher grandpa.
I have the feeling that many people don’t associate farmers and ranchers with being the most academic or intelligent group of people. To me, that just shows that people with those assumptions may be dumber than they look. Just because my grandpa is a rancher and would prefer to be atop a horse herding cattle than in a stuffy conference room does not make him inferior to suit-and-tie folks in any way. Farming and ranching is hard work, not just physically but mentally. As a farmer or rancher, you are a businessperson, a finance manager, an environmental steward, a veterinarian, a mechanic, and an agricultural scientist.
He talks simply, not because he is simple minded or unintelligent, his degree from Berkeley suggests otherwise. Some people use complex words just to show off how smart they are, or rather utilize a copious abundance of multifarious terminology to accentuate their intellectual capacity. Intellect is about far more than vocabulary. Don’t underestimate people. There is something to be learned from everyone, whether it’s a graduate with a Harvard law degree, a struggling homeless person living on the street, or a 4-year-old that is partial to snacking on glue. It would be a shame to lose the opportunity to learn from the experiences and perspectives of others by narrowing your network because you feel the need to appear intellectually superior.
Keep your mind young.
It is important to treat your body well, but let’s face it, gravity will eventually win out and time will take its toll. Just as exercise and fresh air are good for your body, exercising your brain with fresh ideas is good for your mind. As long as you are able, refuse to let your mind become stagnant. Read often and fill your time thoughtfully conversing with likeminded people as well as people from different walks of life that challenge your perspectives. If you never challenge your views, how can you justify them or truly know you believe in them? Never become complacent with your knowledge, learning should be a lifelong adventure to be embraced and continually sought after.
Personality trumps appearance.
Or in his exact words, “A good personality could excuse anybody’s looks or crazy hairdo. If you don’t have a personality then you’re no better than a wart on a cow’s tit.” Yes... my grandpa likes to talk in pictures and what a picture this one paints! A wart on a cows tit is, well, not necessarily a nuisance but not necessarily an asset. Personality is far more impressionable than appearance.
Be someone people remember, for the right reasons ideally. Be someone different. Be someone people look forward to seeing. Be someone people think of fondly. Be thoughtful. Be someone that makes people think about things a different way. Be honest, kind, pleasant, and good-humored. Be crazy, energetic, and eclectic. Above all else, be unapologetically yourself and let your personality tell your story rather than waste your time worried about matters that are only skin deep.
Invest in memories.
To be honest, I use this piece of advice to justify my decisions probably far more often than I should. “Should I buy a plane ticket for a weekend getaway to visit friends or save it for the new tires I’ve been ignoring the need for? Meh, WEEKEND GETAWAY IT IS!”
Let’s face it, no matter how much a person may try to fight it, money impacts and in many ways shapes our lives. We are constantly working for it, trying to save it, spending too much of it, wanting for more of it, or worried about wisely investing it. What if we thought about money differently? Sure, money can give you a nice house, car, jewelry, clothes, and gadgets. Yes please, sign me up! There is nothing wrong with liking and wanting nice things. If they don’t become damaged, destroyed, or stolen, they will all eventually become outdated. Then what? Nicer house, car, jewelry, clothes, and gadgets? Things fade. They become irrelevant. They are temporary and can be taken away. There is one thing that can’t be taken away from you, though—memories.
Money can’t buy memories, at least not directly. In fact, there is a non-monetary form of currency that we all have, some more than others, that is too often taken for granted—a little thing called time. Invest your time in memories. Happiness does not come from objects. Life is not about things. It is about moments. It is about the first time your dad taught you how to fish, the warm embrace from your mom the first time you came home after leaving for college, the spontaneous road trip you took with friends, and the happy tears you cried when your siblings said “I do.” It is about sharing belly aching laughter on game night, fireside cuddles and bedtime stories, laying on a trampoline drawing shapes in the stars, holding your niece or nephew for the first time, and talking with your grandparents on a Sunday morning over a warm cup of coffee. Good memories will remain far longer than any THING money can buy. Fill up your bank with good memories and don’t forget to invest your currencies wisely in the things that truly matter.
I am grateful to have a hero that has given me the courage to take chances, the confidence in my ability to impact the world, and blessed me with deep family roots to allow me to grow beyond the ranch on which I was planted.
Having a real life superhero as a grandpa is pretty amazing, and cowboy hats are far cooler than capes anyhow.
The term “animal activist” makes most people in my industry cringe. For many involved in animal agriculture, “animal activism” translates to radical individuals protesting for animal rights equivalent to those of humans, individuals refusing the use of animals for consumption or other purposes, and people exploiting public misperception by flooding the media with misrepresentations of animal agriculture.
I am not here to argue with traditional “animal activists.” To be fair, perhaps we as animal agriculturalists shouldn’t assume that all “animal activists” are the same or that the most radical minority are fully representative of the whole. I would HOPE they don’t see the wrong doings of one careless farmer, maybe even from another country, and assume it is standard practice for the rest of us… although perhaps that is just wishful thinking on my part.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit of an optimist.
I am here, rather, to simply suggest that advocates and activists for animals come in other forms beyond vegetarian or vegan (whose eating decisions I fully support). Maybe even… farmer/rancher?
One definition states that,
“The root word of activist is the Latin actus, "a doing, a driving force, or an impulse." Someone who acts on what (s)he believes is an activist.”
An activist is “an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause.”
With that being said, I proclaim that I am an animal activist, or for better clarification, animal agtivist.
I believe in treating animals with the utmost care and respect. I believe in animal welfare. I believe that men and women who mistreat their animals have no place being caretakers of them. I believe in a farmer’s duty to maintain their animals’ good health and to nurture those that may become ill. I believe in continued research to better understand the needs of livestock health. I am a vigorous advocate of ensuring the well-being and health of livestock used to feed the world.
Having grown up as a 6th generation cattle rancher, I have cared for hundreds, maybe thousands, of cattle and other livestock first hand in my lifetime. I have sacrificed my own comfort for the well being of animals—delivered calves in the middle of the freezing night, doctored sick animals in the blazing heat, and spent countless hours ensuring their proper nutrition and comfort.
Yes, the majority of cattle I have cared for were beef cattle that eventually ended up in supermarkets or on dining tables. Just because these animals were used for meat does not mean my family and I were careless owners or heartless murderers. To be a farmer or rancher, a person must have an absolute LOVE and PASSION for animals. They must be willing to make personal sacrifices and must be unshakably dedicated to caring for them, no matter the season. They must be lifelong learners, constantly bettering themselves and their practices improving the herd and its product. They must be advocates with loud enough voices to stand up for their lifestyle and livelihoods when so many mislead people stand against them.
Although I have major “beef” (pun intended) with most traditional “animal activist” organizations, I cannot deny their effective tactics.
They instill intense emotion through media.
Fear, sadness, joy, anger, happiness, satisfaction – these are all powerful emotions that we as people know very well. Through the use of imagery, music, and sound, media has an incredible ability to instill these emotions at the touch of a button, through the glass of a screen, or a square on a page. The way media utilizes these components can bring what perhaps some may see as misguided emotion, not fully telling the whole story or transforming an image into something that it is not. Not sure what I mean? Check this out, (and watch to the end).
…see what I did there?
They create conversation.
Emotion creates feelings, feelings create conversation, conversations create opinions, and opinions create action. Through shock and awe factors, “animal activists” create conversations. They lead people to question things they had never thought about and they encourage people to take a stand for what they feel is wrong. As agriculturalists, it is our duty to be active in conversations and create dialogue. We must be a resource for people with questions and we must tell our stories before other people falsely do so. Where do we in agriculture fall short? Well, fear and terror sells better than honesty and good. Turn on the news for a half hour and you'll see what I mean.
They make people feel a part of something.
With a small donation to these organizations, people feel they are making the world a better place… With a click of a button, a person’s dose of satisfaction and good deeds are fulfilled for the day. If there is one thing people should feel a part of, it’s agriculture. Most people rely on agriculture directly at least 3 times a day (and in countless other ways beyond the dining table). Less than 2% of the U.S. is directly involved in food production, but every individual personally relies on agriculture. With the growing disconnect, it is harder and harder to bridge the gap between producers and consumers. In a digital world, however, relationships CAN be formed, questions answered, and truths shared. Consumers can feel a part of agriculture, can interact with farming and ranching men and women, and become better ag educated to make informed opinions about their food and where it comes from.
No, I don’t fit the traditional “animal activist” mold. I was born into a family with a long tradition of raising animals for consumption. Today, I wore leather boots and ate beef for lunch.
I am active in the care of animals. I am active in continuing my understanding as a rancher to be the best caretaker I can be. I am active in sharing my stories and my love for animals. I am active in addressing the questions people have concerning livestock handling and care. I am active in creating transparency from pasture to plate. I am active in being a voice for the industry that feeds the world.
With all of that being said, I proclaim once more,
along with my fellow animal agriculturalists, farmers, and ranchers,
I am an animal agtivist.
...and yes, I like cows.
Before I begin, there are a few things you should know about me.
First, I grew up on what is now a 7th generation cattle ranch in California
50 miles from the nearest grocery store, gas station, or high school.
RURAL doesn't even begin to sum it up.
Second, I'm a bit of a people person.
Okay, I'm a LOT of a people person, perhaps even to a fault if that's possible.
My friend groups are fairly diverse and in many instances, I am the only, or token, "ag" friend in the circle.
As some of you know, there are a few things that come with the territory...
1. You are an expert in all things agriculture... or at least you're expected to be.
Being a part of the agriculture industry, in whatever facet that may be, people associate you with the ENTIRE agriculture industry. I grew up in the cattle business... tomatoes or poultry, for example, aren't exactly my specialty. BUT, as a go-to person amongst my friends to ask any and all ag related questions, it encourages me to continually become more ag literate myself. I became better at utilizing my network of fellow "ag" friends to learn more about other parts of the industry.
2. Your home is compared to old western movies.
When I explain the high desert terrain, wide open plains, tumble weeds, horses, cowboy hats, cattle, snakes.... yeah, okay. It kinda looks like a John Wayne movie. I'll accept that. But farms and ranches across the nation look vastly different from one another! Mine just happens to resemble the wild west variety, and that's a-okay with me.
3. You grew up under a rock, or at least people assume so.
It tends to blow people's minds that people growing up in rural America have cell phone reception or internet access. I guess when you tell them the water on your ranch comes from a well they automatically picture Jack and Jill with a pail. That's cute, but not quite. Yes, it's a commute to get where most would consider civilization, but we aren't backwoods, uneducated hicks I can assure you. We're just good at buying in bulk and being self sufficient where we are!
4. You're the tough, fearless one.
If people know that you aren't intimidated by 1,300+ pound animals, know how to use a gun efficiently, and aren't grossed out by blood or manure, they assume you're pretty much fearless. This may lead to you inheriting the job of spider killer/pest manager amongst your friends, or maybe even cleaner of questionable fluids. Glamorous, I know.
5. Your life is romanticized.
People "ooh" and "ahh" at the concept of living off the land, growing and raising food, caring for animals, getting up before the sun and going home after it sets. They dream about riding a horse off into the sunset, making s'mores by a campfire, and seeing nothing but nature as far as the eye can see. What they don't always consider are the blisters, sunburns, long days, no vacations, and literal blood, sweat, and tears that are a reality of it at times. That being said, I wouldn't change it for the world. And yeah, it's a pretty wonderful life.
6. You hear things like, "Oh! You're a farmer? I only get food from the farmers market. I don't want to eat any of the store bought food that’s filled with chemicals and hormones."
I know people say this with good intentions. I think it's wonderful that you support local farmers, shop at the farmers market, and that you enjoy having a personal relationship with your food and those who grow it. But don't tell me that the food in the grocery store is dangerous, or packed with chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones because I will be the first person to tell you that is false. In fact, the cattle that my family raises ends up at the grocery store! Wherever you prefer to purchase your food, know that the U.S. food supply is the safest in the world and the men and women growing it are doing an excellent job to provide nutritious food for your table.
7. Your friends have come to accept your wardrobe and the questionable matter that may be on the bottom of your shoes.
Yes, my favorite clothing includes a tattered camo hand-me-down sweatshirt and a Carhart jacket. Yes, I prefer jeans to yoga pants and boots to flip-flops. Sure, I'm a sucker for chunky western jewelry and cowhide anything. Is that cow manure on my shoes? I don't doubt it. Look on the bright side, it's probably not dog poo, which is undoubtedly 300x worse.
8. You have to turn down invitations to Chipotle.
My friends caught on to this one quick. I will be the first to admit, I enjoy the taste of Chipotle. The last time I had it anyways... (4 years ago). They of course insist on an explanation, because who doesn't LOVE Chipotle?!?!?! This leads into the long spiel of my frustration with fear mongering advertising and the perpetuating of misconceptions in the food industry through marketing, but that is a long story. Check out this article if you want to see where I might be coming from on this one.
9. You've learned to simplify things and use softer words when explaining the whys and hows.
There is just something about explaining bull calf castration that makes people uneasy. And the most priceless face you can see may be when you tell them that we sometimes eat them afterwards. They're called Rocky Mountain Oysters if you're not familiar, and they're DELICIOUS. When you are raised in agriculture, you normalize practices on the farm/ranch without thinking about it. That's just the way you were raised that we do things. It's when someone asks you something like, "Why do you put those big earrings on the cows?" or, "What happens when your cattle leave your ranch?" that you become really good at explaining things you never had to explain before. There are no dumb questions in my mind, and the seemingly odd questions like, "Who picks up all the cow poop?" or ones related to animal care are what have made me a better agvocate and rancher myself.
10. You can easily shock and awe your friends.
Your mom calls you on the phone and you answer. The conversation continues as normal, a few minutes of chitchat, and you hang up. You look across the room, and your friend is staring at you with a look mixed with concern, judgment, and confusion. I guess normal people don't have discussions with their parents that include phrases like, "Heifer or bull calf?" or, "Did the semen order come in yet?"
11. Your friends learn to avoid certain grocery stores with you because they know you'll turn it into a lesson on food labeling.
Let me be clear, I support all types of agriculture - organic, conventional, GMO, non-GMO, grass-finished, grain-finished, etc. We are so fortunate to live in a country with so many consumer options and many people are blessed enough to afford weighing those options. For others, the question is merely, "Will I eat today at all?" When it comes to labeling and marketing.... I am easily frustrated. Words on a package don't always mean something other than, "You're being charged more for this because you think it's better." And if you think it's better, by all means pay more! But I won't necessarily agree with you that one is any healthier that the other because of certain production practices, because, ya know, #science.
12. You cringe when people mention, "I saw on this documentary Food Inc..."
Excuse me while I bang my head against a wall. The fact that people reference any of their agricultural knowledge having been learned from this documentary is one of the greatest fuels to my fire and a reason why I think agriculture education is SO important. Knowing that Food Inc. is still actively used in schools and universities as a valid representation of American agriculture frustrates me beyond belief. Here's an alternative recommendation for you. Watch Farmland. It's on Netflix and a much more accurate, non-biased representation of our industry. There is even curriculum now that goes along with it, teachers! You're welcome.
13. Your home turns into everyone's weekend getaway.
If I had a nickel for every time a friend of mine asked when we would be having the next Ranch Campout... I'd have a lot of nickels. The things I take for granted, like chores and dirt roads, are actually a treat for those that grew up around sidewalks and skyscrapers. The concept of being in the middle of nowhere, just you and the land beneath your feet, is what some people only dream about. The look on their face when they look up into the night sky as though it's the first time they have ever seen stars (without light pollution maybe) is just another reminder of why home is so great.
14. You and your truck are everyone's best friend during move-in weekend.
People may ridicule your usually dirty truck, especially when parked amongst smart cars or hybrids. When it comes time for move-in weekend though, all of a sudden you're on everyone's speed dial. Hey, as long as you don't mind the possibility of a little hay getting into your new couch, I've already got the ratchet straps so hop on in. Don't mind the camo seat covers and loose ammo I forgot to take out from my last trip home.
15. You have to explain to people why they should stop complaining when it rains.
You may have heard about that drought thing happening in California? Yeah, it's a thing. As a California rancher, the days that it rains are some of the happiest days of the year! As truly tragic as it is that your hair got messed up, or how much of a pain it is to carry an umbrella, or how inconvenient it is to deal with in general, don't hate on the rain... or I'll hate on you for having had no complaints while eating that salad 20 minutes ago (psst, that kale needed rain to grow, fyi).
16. Your non-ag friends categorize your ag friends into one group.
When I went to college at UC Davis, my major was Human Development... not exactly crawling with other ag folks. I found my fellow ag people by getting involved with clubs and organizations on campus. Whenever I referenced them, told my non-ag roommates I was headed to a barn party or ag function, they would say, "Have fun with your cow friends!" Not that all of them were even remotely related to the cattle industry... but hey, whatever works. They learn quickly that agriculture folks aren't just friends, we're more like family.
17. You sometimes have to explain that you need to miss a weekend party because it's branding season.
Family functions happen to frequently revolve around ranch necessities. While other people vacation Memorial Day weekend, we have a branding campout. Some people are avid followers of sport related seasons, but I'm more dedicated to calving season. As much as it kills me to miss out on any social functions... the ranch and family comes first. It's hard work and sometimes a sacrifice, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
18. You turn "city folks" into agvocates.
There is nothing more rewarding to me than creating champions for agriculture out of those that aren't directly connected. Getting a phone call from a friend saying, "OMG, guess what?!?! I totally talked about agriculture today!" makes my heart SO happy. Being a bridge in the gap between producers and consumers, bringing my non-ag friends to the ranch for the weekend, showing them the truth behind agriculture, and knowing that it has touched them in a positive way simply sets my soul on fire!
If you can relate as the token "ag" friend in your
circle of friends, coworkers, or acquaintances I urge you to
Only 2% of the U.S. population is directly involved in agriculture.
Be a positive voice for the industry.
Being the only personal connection that a person has to the industry that feeds
them is a great honor and responsibility.
You have an incredible story and perspective to share that is
more powerful than any misleading article or marketing campaign.
Join the dialogue. Create conversation. Spread truth.