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.