Do Farmers wear business suits?

August 30, 2010

I recently read a blog entry about local food. The author was breaking down the energy it takes to get food from the farm to the dinner table, and debunking some common beliefs about local food. Read it here. A short and very interesting read.

Don’t get me wrong. I love local food! I love the farmer’s market! I love CSAs (Community Supported Ag)! Locally grown produce and meat provide an excellent opportunity for those who don’t have a connection to food production. And they provide my family with fresh food when it’s in season. But… (you knew there was going to be a but) that doesn’t mean that modern/industrial farming is the “bad guy.” There is a place and a need in this world for all forms of agriculture.

Anyway… there was a person on this blog that commented that small local farmers wear blue jeans and worry about their crops, unlike “industrial” farmers in the Midwest who wear suits and worry about their balance sheet. Ok, I know many of you who read this blog are in the Midwest. And most of you have met a farmer. Was he or she wearing a suit?? Probably not.

So many terms get thrown around when it comes to food production. What do they even mean? I’m a farmer in the heartland of America, just 50 miles from Cedar Rapids, the “Food Capital of the World” and I’m not really even sure….

My crops and livestock are sold, for the most part, to food processing companies. Does that make me an “industrial” farmer? My hogs are kept indoors. Does that make me a “factory?” I use herbicides and have a professional accountant do my taxes. Does that mean I’m “corporate?”

All of the labor and management on my farm is done by family. Does that make me a “family” farmer? I sell beef directly to local customers. Does that make me a “local” farm? We use cover crops, no-till, and crop rotation. Does that mean we’re “sustainable?”

I have been known to do cattle chores and get covered in manure (although my husband is the champion at getting dirty, he can look at dirt and it will stick to him). Then the next day I will be dressed in a business suit to attend a Farm Bureau gathering. I’m so confused! Am I supposed to do only one of these activities?

Then there are the days that there isn’t enough time to transition from one role to the other and you end up walking into the bank with your filthy, holey jeans on. Or you extend your dirty greasy hand to family from the city who decided to stop by for a visit.

Then there’s the other way around. Such as when you’re on your way to church and spot 40 head of feeder calves plowing through the newly planted corn field. There isn’t enough time to go home and change into your chore clothes. Or, you go straight to the field after prenatal classes (because you know if you miss one your baby is gonna come out with three legs and hairy ears) because the weather is perfect for the first time in weeks for soybean harvest.

Yes. All of the above situations really happened to me.

I’m not rare. This is how agriculture in the Midwest is. The people you see on the cover of the Farm Bureau Spokesman in their business suits are the same people you will meet on the road with their tractors and manure spreaders. The same people you will see in the bleachers at their kid’s tee ball game.

People who think that “industrial” farming is a horrible, evil, greedy, destructive way of life are the reason I blog. The way they see modern farming just isn’t so.

Written by Liz Nieman


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