Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Great Question and Good Conversation

I had the awesome opportunity to accompany the Illinois Farm Families Field Moms on their tour to Paul & Donna Jeschke's farm in Mazon, IL.  Thanks to an uneventful morning on our farm, a successful scoop and move with the toddler, and a puppy to occupy her once we got to Uncle Chris's for me to successfully escape without a meltdown, I arrived on time to the bus stop to enjoy a BEAUTIFUL spring day with other farm moms and non-farm moms to talk about agriculture. 
Aside from wanting to pick up and transplant Donna's gorgeous landscaping to my house (I've come a long ways from the girl that couldn't grow marigolds in high school horticulture class), I enjoyed talking and learning from these moms. 
These were people who WANTED to have a conversation with us about what we do.  That was what made it so enjoyable.  Last year, I stood in a grocery store on 2 separate weekends, giving out coupons and food samples and trying to start random conversations....either I wasn't very good at it, or I just had the wrong people, I had zero (not a one) meaningful conversations or even questions.  I was, however, told I was "evil".  The guy was serious and truly thought that I was an evil person because my profession was one of caring for animals.  I'll admit that was a downer of a day.  It was pretty hard to take that this person, really/truly thought that what I did for a living (and what I love) was morally wrong.  Needless to say, we did not have a conversation where we shared our thoughts and ideas with each other with respect for the other's point of view.
I'll freely admit that I'm not the most accepting person in the world.  I have a tendency to stay in my "ag" circles b/c I have a hard time understanding weekends (or weeknights) without chores, vacation homes, and whatever else occupies people's time and minds that don't have their head filled with haymaking, cow milking, and poop-scooping/scrubbing. But, at the same time, I really enjoy talking about farming to those who don't understand it b/c I find that the guy who called me evil was a vocal minority, and that the silent majority of people have lots of excellent questions and concerns that in a good conversation we can answer.  Maybe we'll satisfy their concerns, and they'll realize they don't have to feel guilty about the food they feed their family.  Maybe they'll say, "Thanks, but I'll continue to buy speciality products, b/c I feel more comfortable with the decisions made by those farms", but at the end of the day there will be genuine trust, respect, and understanding of different farming operations, technologies, and families.  I also realize that we have lots in common.  God Bless poor Tim from Beck's who got to listen in on a potty-training discussion over lunch.  Maybe I do have a better idea what occupies people's time...
One of the best questions I got asked that weekend was "How do YOU decide?"  How do we decide what to plant, apply to fields, feed animals, etc.  I had to think for a second, and I've pondered it for the past couple of weeks.  Well, I do the same thing these Field Moms are doing.  I do research.  I go to meetings.  I listen to the salesmen, (then I listen to the opposing salesmen).  More than anything, I try it out.  You'll see several examples of farmers "trying out" a new crop, new variety, or new practice on their farms.  Usually, we'll start with 20 acres of this, or 20 acres of that.  This year, we are trying 20 acres of peas & barley that we will chop and feed to the cows, and then we'll follow that up with winter wheat.  We're also trying snaplage to feed the cows next year.  Many farmers will run test plots, where they will run different seed, chemical, fertilizer, spacings, and other variables against one another on a section of land.  They'll analyze that data to decide what did or did not work on their farm, regardless of what did or did not work on the neighbor's farm, or the university or company research. 
BUT, the thing I realize we were forgetting to say in that answer is that FIRST AND FOREMOST, I make sure that I do the research and feel comfortable with the SAFETY of any product.  Before we decide what makes things better/easier/more efficient/more profitable for us as part of a business decision on our farms, we've already decided that we think its safe.  As farmers, we tend to skip over that step that we all go through.  Maybe its because we are more familiar with the research and approvals necessary for these products to even reach the market where we can buy them.  Believe me, I don't think it is because we are more trusting of government (probably the opposite).  Remember, we feed our families the same things you do, from our farms or from the farmer down the road. 
We haven't been perfect in agriculture.  So, how do I "decide" that GMOs or certain pesticides or herbicides are ok to use when maybe we used or did some things in the past that we found out weren't a good idea?  Well, I don't.  Not 100%, without any sliver of doubt/potential, BUT I feel like our research and knowledge is better than it was 50 years or even 10 years ago.  And, if there is ever a peer-reviewed/documented case that something we are doing isn't safe, we'd change it quickly.  People ask about bees.  We are all wondering what's up with the bees.  If we thought it was us, we'd change what we are doing, but we don't think it is. 
So, we'll continue to work for what is best for our family, and for yours. 
And thanks for the thought-provoking weekend.....I've come up with a few other blogs that I should write.  Motivation is key!

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