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Saving Cowboy Poets

n1500180011_30061601_556.jpg n 2007, I was an intern in Washington, D.C., with the USDA Ag Marketing Service. It was my first college summer. I was 19 years old and had never lived a serious distance away from home before. To say that moving to the world’s most powerful city was a culture shock for me is an understatement. I was fresh off the farm and scared to death. Yet, I was in awe of Washington, D.C. — the people, the monuments, the electricity of big things happening; the intensity of the city was contagious. I also remember the opposite end of the spectrum — the war veterans collecting coins on the streets, the homeless people resting on park benches and the protesters standing firmly outside the White House with signs in hand.

It was a summer of learning, and one of the biggest things I learned, especially from my roommate -- a vegetarian New Jersey girl -- was that a lot of people had no idea where their food came from and who the people were behind the products. Living with someone so different from myself, I discovered that sometimes perception is reality for folks who have only been exposed to farming and ranching from things they have read and videos they have watched instead of first-hand experiences. I learned how to share my story in a way that wasn't defensive and didn't mock those who had different ideas.

That summer, I attended the annual cattle industry summer conference, and I had the opportunity to visit with Baxter Black for the weekly radio show I used to do with Trent Loos. During the interview, I told Black a few stories from my weeks in D.C., and I shared with him some of the interesting conversations I had with my roommate about agriculture.

Although he probably doesn't remember telling me this, I will never forget Black telling me, "Amanda, the cowboy ain't dead; sometimes he's just hard to see from the road." That quote has stuck with me over the years, and I have worked tirelessly trying to give farmers and ranchers a voice with our consumers, bringing the food production story to life for those who might never get to see it in person.

I think Black is one of the best at bringing the rancher story to life, and recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talked about how the GOP’s proposed budget cuts would eliminate the annual "cowboy poetry festival” in his home state of Nevada.

"Save federal funding for cowboy poets. The mean-spirited bill, H.R. 1 eliminates the National Endowment of the Humanities, National Endowment of the Arts. These programs create jobs. The National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy poetry festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist," says Reid.

Reid is talking about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, held annually in Elko, NV, a “week-long celebration of life in the rural West, featuring the contemporary and traditional arts of western ranching culture.”

Having had the opportunity to listen to many cowboy poets, including the popular Baxter Black, I have a great appreciation for those who can share the cowboy way with others. What are your thoughts on Reid’s comments? Given our serious federal fiscal problems, should taxpayer dollars go toward the support of arts programs, or should such programs purely be dependent on private-sector support?

Perhaps more importantly, what can we do to foster the next generation of actual cowboys in American agriculture? I'm looking forward to an interesting discussion; thanks in advance for your input!