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Welcome to Someone Grew That
Consumer, Meet Farmer
The sun is just cracking the horizon on the farm, its first rays glinting off of dew-wet grass when you’ve finished the morning’s feeding or milking (or both!). You’d like to go back to bed for a while because you were up in the middle of the night with the calving heifers. Instead, you circle back to the house for another cup of coffee because you have to start the daily grind on the make-or-break challenges that aren’t in the storybook picture of the sheep grazing in the green meadow by the red barn with the gambrel roof. The challenges that got left out of SimFarm and its other internet age cousins. Oh, if you could only plant and pick acres of strawberries with a click of a button!
Your reality includes sky-rocketing input costs. New lows in crop prices. Consolidation of suppliers and buyers. Loss of access to markets. Inability to store perishable products. Labor shortages. Meeting payroll. Machinery prices so high you have to mortgage the farm to buy from manufacturers who sabotage your ability to fix them yourself. Variable interest rates. Theft and abuse of your production data. Regulations — health, environmental, facility, safety, labor — and whole new kinds of regulations like ballot propositions governing animal care. Competition from foreign producers that do not have to follow those same regulations. Proof of compliance and cost accounting. Complicated tax laws and forms. Anti-growth ordinances. Zoning that strips away your farming options and farm-related businesses. Loss of farm-critical local infrastructure such as slaughterhouses, grain elevators, value-add processing, and machine shops. Climate change bringing increasing variance in weather. Product liability insurance rate hikes. Export controls. Invasive plants, animals, and insects. Predators. Parasites. New diseases and mutated old diseases. Drug resistance. Consumers misled by false advertising and bad information — or simply lacking information. Bioterrorism prevention responsibilities. Shortages of veterinary services and medicines labeled for use on your flock. Lack of nearby healthcare for your family and employees. Rising health insurance premiums if you are lucky enough to have that and rising healthcare costs if you can’t get insurance. Lack of broadband in a business world that assumes everyone has high-speed internet. Rural gentrification. Local schools failing to educate your children — or standing empty from rural gentrification and lack of jobs that can support a family. Increasing property taxes as rural communities’ other tax bases disappear. The transition of the farm to the next generation in doubt. Family disagreements escalating with the stress of all this.
And a tree’s fallen on the fence in the back forty. The last storm washed out the supply pipe to the only stock tank in that pasture. One of the tractors is developing a transmission problem. Another tractor’s oil needs changing. The hay baler belts must be replaced before it can be used again. There’s a leak in the barn roof which you must fix before you can fix the leak in the farmhouse roof.
You only have a few hours to work on these problems before it’s time to feed or milk again. And it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, except you may be able to find an actual person on the other end of the phone to answer your questions or buy machinery parts and vet supplies on weekdays.
If you are among the 98% of US residents who are not making your living farming, your view of the sun’s first morning rays is likely glinting off of pavement as you start your commute to work, possibly after hustling children onto a school bus. You probably juggle a demanding job — or two or three — with family obligations. Perhaps you juggle school and a job and eldercare or childcare. Or dealing with your own medical challenges plus holding the job that pays the health insurance or medical bills.
You want to put good food on the table and sensible clothing on yourself and your kids. But you have only minutes to run a lap in the grocery store on the way home from work and then somehow turn it into a meal when you get home — hardly time to read the fine print on the labels, let alone research the back story and find the conflicts of interest not on those labels. You may juggle helping with homework while staging breakfast and lunches and laundry for tomorrow. Or perhaps it’s your own homework interlaced with work or care of an elderly parent.
You may feel guilty if you don’t pay the premium for organic and fresh produce, wondering if you are poisoning yourself or your family or destroying the environment. A raft of catalogs jams your mailbox, all promising that purchases will perfect your life and save the planet. You are bombarded with internet and TV ads, factory-farm tell-alls and diet advice and supplement promotions. Health insurance premiums and co-pays are rising again. Groceries are going up just as fast.
You want to find a way to take care of yourself and others depending on you, and you want to protect the environment and help farmers. It’s just overwhelming for the time and resources you have. You are concerned about “factory farming” and “big corporate ag” but you are not even sure what those words mean. Somewhere in this complex food chain, you know there’s a farmer with a family—there’s that picture on the milk cartoon — but you don’t know how to help that farmer.
The Consumer and The Farmer:
In "Someone Grew That,” I hope to introduce the farm-product Consumer to the real Farmer. I want to bridge the widening gap between these two worlds in the US. Consumers need insight into farmers’ challenges to make choices — both in the store and at the ballot box — to balance care for their own families with concerns for the environment and farm families.
I grew up farming, became a rocket scientist (engineer working on rockets and space telescopes and airplanes and ships), and then returned to farming. That mix of experience is a great foundation for guiding you through the complicated path your food and fiber wove on its way from farmer to consumer. Along the way, I will introduce you to the colorful characters that inhabit the rural American landscape – people, plants, and critters – and share some history of how we got to today’s challenges.
I hope these insights will help consumers make the lives of US farmers a little easier. Your comments are welcome to help me better communicate these complicated challenges. Your questions are welcome to direct my investigations into areas most helpful to you, too.
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