I recently participated in a scholarship interview with a high school senior from the city of Chicago who was interested in going into a career in agriculture.
Yes, I said that right.
Someone in my group of interviewers asked her what is most surprising about being involved with agriculture when you are not from the farm. Her response has stuck with me for a month. She said most of the time, when she tells other students that she is from Chicago, the first two questions she receives, are: 1. Do you know any gang members? and 2. Are you afraid to go outside in your neighborhood. WHAT? I couldn't believe that these rural kids misunderstand that much about how people in urban areas live. Really?
She invited a few of her friends from the farm to her house last semester so that they could debunk their myths about what life is like in a city. HA! This is exactly what we in ag try to do to urban youth!
I read a lot of blogs and Facebook posts from people who live on a farm who strongly advocate for those of the city to UNDERSTAND us on a farm, to get to know what it's like, what our priorities are, what we do everyday to make food for people. It is rare when I read something the alternate way, when we on the farm are seeking to understand our customers, what their lives are like, what they do or eat. We may have the same misconceptions of them that we think they may have of us.
Big agriculture, which my family is involved in, has taken a true beating the last few years. They have been accused of much that is not based on much fact, similarly to the farm kids above who had a misconstrued idea of what urban life is like. The farmers who are involved in raising grain are our friends, our customers, those who are families like us in a business to grow food for a growing population. Is there misunderstanding of how that is done by some? Yes. Do I, who does understand this industry, trust them to raise our food in a healthy manner and get it around the world? Yes.
Do I think that there is room for those who don't believe in the way they believe food is raised to voice their opinion, seek out other manner of obtaining and eating food for their family? Yes.
But the key here is understanding. Understanding where the other side of the fence is coming from. I think we in ag need to not only seek to communicate but not do the same thing that we are doing to the families who are criticizing us -- group all into the same stereotype.