Why in a Compartmentalized World, Farming Needs to Unite

It is hard to believe, but Lord help us, we are getting into full swing of the 2020 presidential election cycle. One of the legacies of the 2016 election that will be long remembered was the popular use of the term “fake news.” I believe the term was first used by the Democrats, but President Trump skillfully turned it in his favor, and the rest is history.

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People use the term pretty liberally these days. It is mighty tempting to label something fake news if it doesn’t comport with your beliefs. If you frequent social media, I am sure you’ve seen the phenomenon unfold. Social media has created a perfect environment for people to live in a compartmentalized and combative world where information that supports one’s point of view spreads without the best standard of fact checking. If you are in my tribe, you are good. If you are in another tribe, you are bad. Politics is the perfect breeding ground for this type of division and sadly that will likely never change.

What concerns me more than politics on social media is discussions and beliefs put forward about the food we eat.

American consumers have been blessed with an abundant and mostly affordable food supply. Many don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, and it’s in this environment that opinions about what is good and bad in food and agriculture can take hold.

And, there are a bunch of folks with a lot of different agendas on how agriculture should operate. Many of these people have little, if any, experience in agriculture. These agendas have proliferated on social media — some positive and others negative.

The classic example of this has been the case against GMOs, which has been the fodder of social media debate for as long as social media has been around. And, it is fair to say agriculture lost that battle. Take a walk through a grocery store, and the proliferation of non-GMO labels is good evidence of the loss, despite the many studies that show GMOs are safe.

You don’t see as much about GMOs on social media these days except from the diehard opponents and advocates. It’s more common now to see claims about various foods and their good or bad health effects. I have seen claims (supposedly from reliable sources) that a particular vegetable has qualities that can cure cancer. I also have seen claims that the very same vegetable causes cancer. I may be wrong, but I suspect, both claims are just a wee bit overstated.

Some also put forth the idea that pushing farming methods back in time, before modern techniques and technology, is somehow better. The problem with that notion is that it would be pretty difficult to keep grocery store shelves filled at all times, like they are today.

Social media has been the fuel that fired class-action lawsuits against the world’s most widely used herbicide. Other attacks on agriculture — like class-action lawsuits on pig farms because urban folks who move to the country can’t be bothered by the smell — are becoming all the more frequent.

So, as a grower, what can you do to respond to these attacks on modern farming? Consider establishing a social media presence to document life on the farm. Don’t be combative, just show the challenges, joys, and heartbreaks that come with farming. It speaks for itself much more loudly than someone with no ag background spreading misinformation on social media.

Finally, this is a little off topic, but somewhat related. Can we please give the social media videos of licking the ice cream and putting it back on shelf a rest? That’s just gross!

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Avatar for Anne Schwartz Anne Schwartz says:

I appreciate your comments and don’t entirely disagree, but there are plenty of modern agriculture practices that are terrible. Perhaps justifiably necessary for short term solutions, but; Terrible for the creatures we raise to eat, for the farmworkers who must work around crops sprayed with all of the insecticides, fungicides and herbicides used to grow our food, terrible for all of the people who live down wind of CAFO’s and must endure breathing air heavy with ammonia and nitrates from massive lagoons, and yes, perhaps harmful to the people who eat them.
I just heard an interview with Graham Kerr, the former Galloping Gourmet. As his wife grew sicker with heart disease, diabetes, suffering from a stroke, and all the ‘normal’ diseases of aging common in this country, he realized that it was the very food that he was preparing, and selling to the viewers of his long running television show, that was killing his wife. He decided to investigate, and change what they ate. He realized they needed to make some big changes. That meant letting go of quite a bit of income from his fame and legacy of feeding people “the best” money could buy. His wife is still alive, they are both healthier and happier with their newer diets of much less meat, much less animal fat, many more vegetables and eating more in season with local, organic produce.
I graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Animal Science in 1978. During college, I worked on several farms before starting my own. My husband and I have been farming for over 40 years and I’ve been involved with food and ag at the regional level for many years. We raise our own poultry and buy local grass raised beef. We have both served as EMT’s for our local volunteer fire department for over 40 years. We see the diseases that kill people on a daily basis. People eat terribly, our food, our idealized lifestyles are making us fat and killing us early. There is something wrong with this picture.
The constant down pushing of prices to the farmer just continues to force the farmer to find shortcuts, and perhaps make choices that are not in the best interests of the people, livestock or eaters of this blessed work that we do.