Only 2% of the population live on farms. That means that 98% of people do not know the ins and outs of farming and what all it entails. This happened thanks to the Industrial Revolution that drew people to urban areas. Around the same time that people were migrating to the cities and away from the farm, the media greatly diminished their coverage of farming and agriculture. Not only was the public physically removed from the farm, but they were mentally removed. An “out of sight, out of mind” situation became prevalent.As far as the population was concerned, farms still looked like grandpa’s red barn often seen in literature. In fact, though, farms look vastly different and have modernized just as the rest of the world has.
These major factors have created a huge gap between the consumer and farmer. With this gap comes questions from consumers. They want to know how their food is being grown and what is being put in their bodies. They want to know why farms don’t look like what they thought, and often times ask hard questions about farm practices. Answers are desired, and rightfully so. They deserve to know what they are consuming. There is a gap that needs to be bridged; however, this is easier said than done. An attempt must be made though.
Bridging the gap is not achieved by throwing information out there. That is not good enough. A conversation must be started. This is not any one group’s responsibility. Both consumers and farmers alike, must do their part. Consumers have a responsibility to ask questions. It is completely ok, to ask what is going on behind the food being eaten. Likewise, farmers should also be asking questions. Questions like “Where are you getting your information? What concerns do you have? How can I help you feel better about this?” can be helpful in situating exactly where the consumer is and what they are thinking. Sometimes they may not know what to ask or how to ask it. From questions, a conversation can ensue.
Conversations are of no use if they are done in a negative way that only widens the gap. The goal is to bridge it. It is important for both sides to approach the dialogue in a positive manner. The public should have an open mind. There are a lot of voices out there and a lot of opposing information. Researching issues and gathering information from reputable sources on both ends of the spectrum is crucial. The beauty of our society here is we have the freedom to make a choice. So when engaging in these conversations, it is crucial to come in with an open mind and an open heart. By heart, I mean a sense of compassion and respect. Aggressive behavior is not going to move the conversation forward, rather it is going to stop it in its tracks. Consumers also need to realize that what they learn, may not be what they expected. Farming isn’t the same, and that’s ok. The important thing is to talk about those changes and gain understanding about the why behind those changes.
As farmers, it is important that we are also respectful and gentle with our dialogue. So many times I have seen conversations, especially online, go south because of the negativity of the language. “Get your facts straight!” and “Don’t be ignorant!” are not words that promote a conversation. They are just our emotions and frustrations shining through. I know that as farmers ,we are passionate about what we do. I know I am. A lot of information out there that bashes farmers is hurtful and feels like a personal attack on our way of life, and our knee-jerk reaction is to scream and rant. This will get us no where. We need to take that passion and show everyone that we care and are passionate about what we do. We need to remember that it isn’t the public’s fault that they may not understand. It is simply something that has happened with time. The simple truth, is they aren’t around it like we are. When posts that are anti-agriculture surface, ignore them. Don’t share those posts and say things like “How can people say such horrid things. It is all lies!” Not only are you providing more views for that negative article, but you are not enticing a positive conversation. Share positive posts that highlight what wonderful people farmers are or cover tough topics, but are well written and not filled with rants. Equally important is the process of listening. If we do not take the time to listen, then we are shooting blindly. It is not about a persuasive argument (although, there are persuasive tactics in it), it is a conversation, and conversations require just as much listening (for both parties) as it does talking.
Bridging the gap doesn’t always mean standing on the same side of the gap. It is perfectly alright to agree to disagree. In fact, the likelihood of completely agreeing is slim to none. We should all learn to be able to say, “you know, I don’t think we are going to agree on this subject. Thankfully, we have the freedom and choice to be unique.” The bridge is still there. The option to learn more and have a conversation is still there, we may just stand on opposite ends of the gap. So long as we don’t throw things at each other, it can be a healthy relationship. It is also important to note that it does no good to argue with activists. They are just as staunch in their beliefs as we are our’s. We aren’t going to change their minds. Agreeing to disagree is the only way to keep some sort of peace, despite how tense it may be. Even if the opposing side does not agree to disagree, we do not have to be pulled into the unwinnable fight.
Between the worlds of urban and rural is a gap. This gap is filled with misunderstandings, confusion, and questions. Conversation is the bridge. Not everyone may come across the bridge, but at least it is there. All it takes is positive words…
“Hi, I heard you were a farmer. Can I ask you a few questions?”
“Absolutely! I’d love to share my passion with you. What would you like to know?”
Together we can bridge this gap. Will you join?
A huge thank you to The Center for Food Integrity for the Engage workshop they held that I was recently able to attend. They helped me to articulate these thoughts that were jumbled in my brain.