The Lens of a Farmer…

When I moved to Cozad, Nebraska in the summer of 1997, I looked at the world through the lens of a young college educated urbanite.  Living in a small town and being intricately involved in the raising of food was not in my repertoire.  I came with a large number of ideas and very few applicable real world experiences.

Matt and I with my brother two days before we moved back to the farm in Nebraska...

Matt and I with my brother two days before we moved back to the farm in Nebraska…

My first years on the farm were marked by humility.  I spent quality time with a scoop shovel, learned how to ride pens checking cattle and how to run the feed truck.  I also spent time behind a desk with my eyes glued to the computer screen as the commodity markets scrolled across.  My life revolved around learning to ask pertinent questions and observing carefully.

A couple months later on the farm...

A couple months later on the farm…

I had no idea that caring for food animals and growing beef was so complicated…

In 2014, there is no part of agriculture that is simple.  I wear many hats to complete all of the tasks that fall under the job description of feed yard owner and manager.  It took me a decade to become comfortable and confident in the role of boss lady, and after 17 years I am still learning something new every day.

My job is to offer them optimal care while producing great tasting beef and wisely using the resources of our farm...

My job is to offer them optimal care while producing great tasting beef and wisely using the resources of our farm…

Sometime during my tenure on the farm, an evolution began to occur as Americans became interested in where their food comes from.  Not only did this interest manifest itself in the grocery store, but also in college classrooms all across the country.  The discussion of the right way to grow food was taken up, and today continues to be debated by academics as they do their best to observe the modern food production system from 10,000 feet.

From philosophical novelists like Michael Pollan to investigative reporters like Eric Schlosser and Chris Leonard, many urban dwellers have tried to offer advice on what is wrong with the modern food production system.  I believe that many of these critics are challenged by a lack of first-hand experience of being a farmer.  I consider that first hand experience to be a critical link to properly understanding the complexities of modern agriculture and the growth of food in 2014.

It is a great blessing to raise my girls on a farm in rural America...

It is a great blessing to raise my girls on a farm.  I hope that they too will feel the call to use their gifts by contributing to rural America.

I am the first to admit that there are many ways that food animal production can improve; however, I do not often find myself agreeing with the suggestions that come from these philosophical academics.  I find their descriptions of rural America and farming to lack a full perspective and understanding.  It seems as if they discover the story that fits their preconceived notions rather than the entire picture of how and why the modern day food production system operates as it does.

Chris Leonard has a new book that hits the bookshelves today called The Meat Racket.  In it, Leonard paints a dismal picture of both my farm and the small town rural America that I love with all my heart.  While a large part of the book discusses chicken production, a section of it encroaches into beef cattle farming and attempts to discredit the cattle feeding cooperative of which I am a proud member.BMG.jpg

The next few Feed Yard Foodie posts will take a closer look at the Meat Racket , as I share a different perspective on rural America and the growth of food through the:

Lens of a farmer…

13 Comments

Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General, Rural Communities

13 responses to “The Lens of a Farmer…

  1. I think people have always been interested in where their food comes from–but years ago, they only had to walk out the back door to figure it out! Today, with so few people invested in raising food for the rest of us (Thank you and Matt!), farmers and ranchers have a responsibility (and, I believe, strong desire, based on pride in their work) to show them where food comes from and how the food they eat is the same healthful and nutritious food farmers eat. Thanks for your dedication to sharing personal experiences from your unique perspective.

    • Thank you,Polly. I appreciate your kind words. I agree that an important part of being a farmer in 2014 is the ability to share with our customers how we grow the food that they choose to purchase. The beef that I grow feeds my family in addition to thousands of other families all across the globe. I view the modern food production system as a success story—full of diversity and integrity.

      Thank you for reading and contributing to the conversation.
      Best,
      Anne

  2. cecilia

    When fast food franchises lose their customer base, only then will I believe that consumers honestly care about where and how their food is grown.

    • Hi Celilia,

      Americans’ staunch support of various fast food franchises definitely demonstrates that convenience trumps most of the other issues—I agree with you! Although, there is a subset of Americans who choose not to patronize those establishments. To me, one of the best things about food in 2014 is the vast array of choices that are available.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your thoughts.
      Best,
      Anne

  3. Bobbi

    I find the pictures of the ‘modern’ farmers/rancher that seem to float around are the ‘backwoods hick’ version who drives a big wheeled 4×4, the Green Acres verion where everything is simple or the Villian Farmer who is out to poison the world. Every morning I look in the mirror at our small farm family and I don’t see anything like those 3 versions. We have a big job to change these images of a farmer to what we really look like. I am just an ordanary looking human who just happens to drive a full size pickup, who chose a career in food production instead of investment banking and tends to have a little organic ferilizer on most of my shoes. You are correct that no part of agriculture is simple but I have found very few things in life that are simple. Look forward to your next post!!! Enjoy our nice weather today!!!

    • I agree, Bobbi, on all counts. I made the same life choice that you did. It brings with it an array of challenges that ensures that no two days are exactly the same…

      I had a great few hours working cattle in the almost spring like weather today—so much better than the bitter cold that marked the first half of February!

      Good to hear from you.
      Best,
      Anne

  4. Love this post. It’s so easy to look in from the outside of anything and make suggestions and comments, but not so easy to implement them. We often forget to remember that walking a mile in someone else’s usually wields an unexpected perspective.

    I’m sure you have seen the articles and such about it, but there is a new book called In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America by Maureen Ogle that came out last fall. I haven’t had the chance to read it entirely but it seems to be less of an activist perspective and more historical/understanding of the complexity of meat production.

    • I love your book suggestion, Mandy. I am going to get myself a copy so that I can read it. Thank you for passing it along!

      Walking a mile in someone’s shoes is one of life’s greatest lessons. It is likely that each one of us needs to do it more often.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.
      Best,
      Anne

  5. I am looking forward to your next posts. I am always interested to hear what you have to say from a first hand perspective of being a farmer/rancher. You are right that those who don’t have this first hand experience are quick to judge with little fact or knowledge of the reality of the world you live daily. I am glad you keep bringing up these things that otherwise others wouldn’t know about or others would have a one sided view about. Keep up the good work Anne 🙂

    • Thank you, Kim. This one is an intellectual challenge for me, and I agree that the next few posts will be an interesting journey. I have never met Mr. Leonard, but did a fairly lengthy phone interview with him a little over a year ago.

      Good to hear from you—hope that your snow has melted and not left ice…We are finally warming up in Nebraska. I took my over-coat off when working cattle today for the first time in a long time.

      Best,
      Anne

      • It’s warmed up a little and the snow is beginning to melt off the hard surfaces, but not the ground yet. I also was able to wear one less layer, but still have to have that jacket and a hat as the wind is cold. Hope you have a blessed week 🙂

  6. I am an urban consumer and I am shocked at how little most folks know about food production.

    I heard the piece on “Meat Racket’ on NPR and I would like to know how much of it is truth and how much is hype. I will be following your posts.

    Thank you for the series and for all of your hard work.

    • Hello Cairenn,

      Thanks so much for reading and signing up to follow the blog. I am so glad that you have found me as a resource! This series of blogs is an important project of mine as I would really like to get balanced and quality information out to those folks that are searching for it.

      My “short take” is that Mr. Leonard only represented part of the food production story—the part that matched up with his initial opinions. I think that this is a shame because it paints an inaccurate picture. I also, quite frankly, was bothered by the tone/attitude of the book toward agriculture. There is a lot of judgement passed on a variety of topics — making sweeping generalizations that do not fit the complexity of growing a diverse supply of food.

      Hopefully I can do justice to filling in the gaps in the next couple of weeks as I offer my “long take”. Please feel free to ask questions along the way. I’d love your feedback as well!

      Best,
      Anne

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