It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me. Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I’ll have given speeches eight times in four states. As I type this, I’m sitting in the Minneapolis airport headed to the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association Winter Meeting in Sun Valley. While I’m there, I’ll present on two topics that I have come to know well — navigating the dynamics of multi-generation ranch businesses and effectively advocating for agriculture to consumers.
Whether you’re learning how to run a business with a new son-in-law, your siblings or the older generation who is not quite ready to let go of management control or you’re frustrated with the misconceptions about food production on social media — both can be handled using the same simple strategy: Work hard and be kind.
Regardless of the scenario, if we work hard at our passions (such as running cattle or sharing our story) and we lead with kindness and solid facts, we really can’t go wrong, can we? That seems to be a common message I’ve been running with in my speeches, and to me, it feels like the most authentic way to deal with both a cantankerous relative at the Christmas gathering or a vegan activist trolling me on the internet.
Anyway, last week I spoke at Thunder Seed’s Women in Ag Event in Halstad, Minn. It was a lovely evening with great food, great wine and a great crowd. Following my speech, I took questions, and I received an interesting one that I thought was worth sharing with all of you.
The audience member asked me: “Amanda, if you were queen for the day, how would you show people where their food comes from once and for all?”
Admittedly, I kind of stumbled over my answer, which was embarrassing, considering I had just spent the last hour talking about agricultural advocacy with this group.
Is consumer education and relationship building as easy as having the right person in power making the right moves? Maybe so.
Regardless, this was a hypothetical question, so I could deal in fantasy with my response.
While I preach sharing our story on social media, ideally we would bring consumers to the farm or ranch and show them first-hand exactly what we do each day to tend to the land and the livestock and to provide food to enrich human lives.
So, if I was queen for the day (err, the first female president of the United States), I would do two things:
First, I would invite urban consumers and elected U.S. Congressmen and women to the flyover states and to the quiet rural gravel roads that weave across America.
I would want them to see the tiny, one-horse towns they have only seen from the window of an airplane as they jet from one side of the country to the other. I would want them to meet the local cafe owner, the small school teacher, the gas station clerk, the community-run movie theater owner, the hunting guide, the librarian and of course, the ranching and farming families.
You see, small town rural America ceases to exist if industries like agriculture, energy and timber disappear. As we outsource these needs and small farming families call it quits, so does the very fabric of rural America.
Now, perhaps some may argue — what do I care if rural America no longer exists? One professor at UC Berkeley said exactly that recently.
As reported by The Blaze, “Jackson Kernion, a graduate student who has taught at least 11 philosophy courses at the university, posted that he ‘unironically embrace[s] the bashing of rural Americans.’
“‘They, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions,’ he said in the since-deleted tweet. ‘Some, I assume, are good people. But this nostalgia for some imagined pastoral way of life is stupid, and we should shame people who aren't pro-city. It should be uncomfortable to live in rural America. It should be uncomfortable to not move.’”
If his statements enrage you, I don’t blame you; however, before we light our torches, consider this — Kernion can enjoy a life in his urban city, teaching about the philosophies of life, and never has to once consider where his electricity, food, shelter or fuel comes from. He can enjoy these simple luxuries by the very nature of some who choose to work in blue collar industries in rural America.
Yet, our society has forgotten this because life is so easy, food is so abundant and heat and lights turn on with the simple flip of a switch.
If I were queen of the day, folks like Kernion would be the first to receive invitations in the mail to attend a harvest dinner in the heart of rural America. He could tour a ranch, watch a butchering and eat the steak or hamburger that came from that operation, and only then, might he be reminded about the vital role that rural America plays in providing the comforts of his own life.
Second, I would then invite folks to volunteer their time, talent and treasures at a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter, kids’ after school program or as a case advocate for endangered foster youth.
Because while so many of us enjoy simple luxuries in life using a small percentage of our disposable income, there are many in this country who are food insecure, living on the streets and dealing with extreme poverty, threat of violence, human trafficking and so much more.
One in four kids goes to bed hungry at night. That’s not just a sweeping statistic; let it sink in for a moment — 25% of children have rumbling stomachs as they lay their heads down to sleep!
We can and must do more for the food insecure in our society, and we can only do this with giving hearts and empathy for those who aren’t as privileged as we are. And when we do good, we don’t grumble because the Starbucks got our latte order wrong or the organic brand of eggs we like was out of stock at the grocery store; our eyes are awakened to real and true problems in this world.
And perhaps, it would encourage a spirit of empathy, giving, understanding and compassion — things that I feel our society is lacking these days.
Travel around the world and see the impacts of countries who don’t enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we do in the United States. In places where the government controls all and food is scarce, there is social unrest, violence, war, famine and desperate people.
At its core, American agriculture provides food security, which equals national security, which equals peace and the freedom to pursue other interests outside of hunting, gathering, foraging or harvesting our own food for our very survival.
I know it’s not as simple as waving a magic wand and having folks visit a ranch and volunteer at a soup kitchen, but I wish our society would open our eyes to the role farming and ranching plays in ensuring a peaceful and secure nation. And if I were queen (president) for the day, that’s exactly the message I would send to my constituents.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.