As I watched these young ladies dominate the team competition at the Broken Bow Invitational Cross Country meet on Saturday morning, I thought of farmers. A very wise coach has taught these athletes how to “pack run” — setting both group and individual goals, and mentally supporting each other through the long 5K high school races.
I think that many distance runners would tell you that the middle of the race is the most challenging. The adrenaline from the start has worn off, but the promise of the finish line is still miles away. The culture of the “pack” lends strength to both the individual and to the team as well as building tenacity for the long run.
The journey of the American farmer is much like a distance running race. Growing food is an expedition full of challenges. From Mother Nature, to the availability of natural resources, to food safety, to animal welfare priorities, to ever increasing government regulations, to sharing the story of food production. Every day is it’s own race, and the days clump together into something similar to a marathon.
I believe in the power of teamwork. The lonely individual marathon of farming can be overwhelming, especially while embarking on the trek of transparency and sharing the realistic story of modern day food production. It is hard to motivate at the end of the day to post blogs and pictures — even when you believe in the necessity of reaching out and explaining your farm story. Some of the challenge comes from simple physical fatigue, and some comes from the fear of ridicule and harassment from those that do not believe in raising animals for food production or using modern food production systems to raise them.
While each individual farm has it’s own uniqueness, farmers share many things in common. Embracing the “pack run” philosophy could be a very powerful tool for American agriculture.
There is certainly some of this already occurring, but it is a concept that could be used on a much more powerful scale.
- The first step is for farmers to adopt a universal set of basic standards for responsible food production. The Beef Quality Assurance program is a great place to start for this relative to beef production. A pack offers support but, in turn, requires its members to contribute in a meaningful way. Quality animal care is imperative and needs to be unanimously adopted across food animal production.
- The second step is acceptance of all farming practices that meet the basic standards, and respect for all farmers that care enough to join the pack of responsible food production.
- The third is an important element of teamwork – recognizing that no matter how strong we are as individuals — together we are stronger. Mutual respect and support of each other makes for a powerful combination and a unified voice telling the true story of food production.
When I peruse the internet and see farmers fighting amongst each other or making their own way by belittling others, I am saddened. I think of the success that my daughter and her cross country team have on the running course, and I wish that farmers could be as unselfish and supporting as these teenage girls.
I think that agriculture needs its own wise coach to lead a unified effort to share the true story of American farmers.
I think that agriculture needs to learn to pack…
*Author’s note #1: In Nebraska, Varsity High School Cross Country runs 6 and scores 4. The four girls pictured at the top ran an impressive race as a pack finishing strong with Ashley Grace and one of her teammates running the last mile at 6:20 pace and finishing the 5K under 21 minutes. The second two runners were very close behind and the girls individually earned 10, 11, 12, and 13 places to win the title. This young team gets stronger and more confident with every day that passes — it is a true pleasure for this Mama to watch.
*Author’s note #2: I have always had a strong passion for animal welfare and have worked to improve this in beef cattle for more than 15 years. I found my pack on this journey with the Beef Marketing Group and it’s Progressive Beef QSA program. I began the lonely blogging journey to share the story of how feed yards prepare cattle to become beef in the spring of 2011. I am still waiting patiently for other cattle feed yards to take this step in order to offer appropriate transparency to the beef production cycle. The list of other cattle feeders that have packed with me on this journey is very short. Unfortunately, the list of people who ridicule and label me as a factory farmer is much longer…