Conversations Are Beneficial

Following my post titled Size Is Relative, a respected follower of mine, Joya Parsons (@Kubileya), sent me the following tweet. In it she makes some very poignant statements that everyone in agriculture, no matter the size, commodity or production practice, should take to heart.

She begins:

@JeffFowle No one is throwing stones, but the instant backlash when a hashtag for small farms to connect was suggested is pretty telling as to the attitude coming from over #AgChat way.

I recall seeing several tweets a few days ago using the #smallfarm hashtag and thought to myself that it was a neat idea to provide a unique identifier for one of the groups that help make up agriculture. At the time I did not notice any “condescending” remarks being made, by either side. Later that day, however, I noticed a series of tweets with the new hashtag, promoting small farms (which is great), yet they were also speaking ill of those who were not “small.” This is what prompted me to write my original post. However, I had not noticed the reciprocal mudslinging, so I went back through the tweet stream to try to find out what Joya was describing and sure enough, there were some.

I will try to say this as clearly as possible. There are too few of us in production agriculture to begin with. The mudslinging, negative accusations and belittling one aspect of agriculture in an attempt to gain favor for another is not only childish, but ultimately, negatively impacts agriculture on the whole. We are all part of the solution and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can pull together for everyone’s benefit.

She continues:

If you really want to tackle fragmentation in the ag community, you’re going to have to deal with decades of “get big or get out” policy, you’re going to have to take into account the countless “BigAg” practices and policies that make it harder for small farms to survive (GMO cross-pollination and rapid deregulation of GM technology, heavy subsidies for largely inedible commodities, pesticide/fungicide/herbicide drift, a gutted regional ag infrastructure from slaughter facilities to locally-owned feed & seed stores, and a million other things). You’re going to have to recognize that the ag industry is *still* in the “bigger is better” mindset (witness Monsanto’s Farm Mom contest, where a “farm” is defined as 250+acres or 1000+ cows and all other farms can go to hell).

This statement by Joya is one that has led to some very passionate discussions. On some of the issues, through conversations, we have discovered that we are in relative agreement on some of the issues and remain on different sides in relation to others. At the center of the discussion seems to be the continued belief that agriculture is still thinking “get big or get out,” and that it is the “big corporations” that are making it harder and harder for small farms, ranches and forests to survive. However, in relation to the first belief, as I addressed in my previous post, Size Is Relative, agriculture today has changed its philosophy to optimizing production with the resources available from maximizing. In regards to the second belief, I personally am feeling the pressure from government regulations, fees, taxes and public policy that is driven by urban sprawl and public perception that is based either on a romanticized vision of the farm, antiquated or falsified/misleading  information from elitist activist groups; without a true understanding of where food comes from and those who grow it.

Often forgotten in the discussion is the reality that when children from farms and ranches want to return to their roots, land is too expensive for them to buy their own. Thus, they return home, families incorporate and then try to add on neighboring parcels to sustain multiple families. Care, passion, and concern for animal welfare are not lost with the increase in size. This is a very different transition in agriculture than the transition that occurred in the 80’s, involving investment bankers and absentee owners speculating on land values.

I am in agreement with Joya on the matter of direct payments. In a previous post, The Farm Bill: A Rancher’s Perspective, I stated that we need to move away from Direct Payments and towards a reformed crop insurance program, that allows all crops to be insured. To immediately stop all Direct Payments, without modifications in trade agreements and reforming the crop insurance program, could be catastrophic to domestic food production, in my humble opinion.

Joya continues:

I have always had the feeling that the AgChat crew pushes this idea that ‘we’re all in this together’ as an attempt to silence those of us trying to make a living AND change the world through small farms. As a small farm, you never get more than a patronizing pat on the head and an attitude of, “You go play with your niche market and let the big boys ‘feed the world’ when, in fact, most small farmers see feeding the world- starting with their own neighbors and community- as the ultimate goal. I can tell you firsthand as a smallholder, that I *often* feel under attack from the same exact ultra-powerful industry that you and others think I need to join together with. So, yeah, that’s not gonna happen. Sorry for the Twitter-book. I had a lot to say 🙂

First, I can understand Joya’s perceptions, it is much the same as the feelings many in the #agchat community have, myself included, from a few of the #profood crew. However, I think we all realize that those who ridicule from both sides are few in number. It is because these jabs are being thrown that make it just as important for those in the communities to engage each other in a positive and professional manner as it is between producers and consumers.

Second, I believe it is in every producers interest to nourish and support their local communities in whatever manner is possible, first and foremost. Communities and rural towns are, after all, often considered to be extended family of the agricultural community. Means of support vary from providing food and fiber to volunteering as firefighters, youth coaches and community leaders. I am sorry that Joya feels like she is “under attack” from “ultra-powerful industry,” these “attacks,” from both sides, do not serve to advance the discussion and only fragment.  I do not think that “joining” all together is nearly as important as it is to be able to communicate effectively with one another and find those issues that we can work together on for the benefit of all. All sides must move beyond the “us vs. them” attitude.

Finally, I thank you Joya, for openly sharing your thoughts and feelings on my last post and I look forward to our future conversations. These are the steps that set the example for others to follow as we all work to address the needs of people when it comes to food, fiber, fuel and shelter.

  1. March 14, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    I too noticed the #smallfarm tweets a week or so back. It’s interesting what one might think is small or large. We have 2300 acres of corn, soy, popcorn, and wheat which I’m sure some consider huge, but we have several neighbors farming 4000-7000 acres which make us look small. In February, we took a trip to Hawaii where we have family that farms. They make a living off 14 acres growing lettuce, cabbage and onions. Although the farm was a fraction of the size they deal with the same pest and disease problems we have, but I’ll guarantee they do more physical labor than us. Besides plowing the soil, everything is done by hand, but the science of growing the plants is no different than what we do.

    I think there are misconceptions both ways. Large farms are often perceived like big corporations, big faceless entities that only care about profit (by the way, those large neighbors of ours are family run operations of whom I went to school and grew up with the current generation, my dad with their dads, and those that are still around my grandfather with theirs). And small and on top of that sometimes organic farms come across as environmental activists. Truth is there’s a niche for everything, and like it or not ag is all bundled together to feed, fuel, clothe this big old rock so we had better stand together although we may have some differences. I’m learning to appreciate the small farm more and more as I get around to all the blogs and tweets.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 15, 2011 at 8:37 AM

      Thank you for sharing Brian. I appreciate your taking the time to visit and post. Clearing up misconceptions through positive and respectful conversation is essential.

  2. March 26, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    I noticed mention of Monsanto’s Farm Mom of the Year contest. Thought I should clarify that the eligibility requirements are a bit different than highlighted above. The requirement for “commodity crops” is 250 acres but for fruits and vegetables it is 40. Similarly the eligibility for cattle is 50 dairy cows or 100 beef. I’m sure Joya made a typo there in saying it was 1000.

    The eligibility requirements are all laid out at http://www.monsanto.com/americasfarmers/Pages/farm-mom-of-the-year-official-rules.aspx

    Here is the section on eligibility. 2. Eligibility. This America’s Farm Mom of the Year contest (the “Contest”) is open to legal U.S. females who are at least 18 years of age who (i) are a mother to one or more natural born or adopted persons or are the legal guardian of one or more persons and (ii) work on a farm that produces at least 250 acres of corn, soybeans, cotton, vegetables and/or specialty crops (canola, sorghum, wheat or alfalfa); and/or at least 40 acres of fruits and vegetables; and/or raise at least 100 head of cattle or hogs; and/or maintain at least 50 head of dairy cows and/or at least 20,000 poultry (broilers or layers) within the United States. Individuals in any of the following categories are not eligible to enter or win: (a) directors, officers, employees or agents of Sponsor or their affiliates, parents, subsidiaries, professional advisers, advertising and promotional agencies other entities involved in this Contest and (b) individuals who are immediate family members of or who reside in the same household as any individual described above.

  3. June 17, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    I have a job in which I produce videos that support modern agricultural practices. I also have met many California farmers, big and small. Whether it is Frank Muller, who operates a 10,000-acre farm with his brothers in Yolo County, or Russle van Loben Sels who operates a 3,000-acre spread in Courtland, or the Schohr family consisting of two brothers and sister in their 20s who run 3,500 acres in Gridley along with their parents and relatives, they all are sincere folks and the salt of the earth. I really haven’t seen the oneupmanship that you speak of above. Their overriding concern is producting a profitable harvest, while keeping it safe, environmentally sound and affordable for consumers. They use the latest in modern technology to achieve these ends, e.g. GPS systems, controlled orchard sprayers, etc., and they appear to be quite content pursuing their livlihoods. Thank God we have such dedicated people as the “American farmer” keeping us fed and comfortable by toiling day in and day out to prevent starvation. Three cheers for farmers!!!

  1. March 14, 2011 at 7:25 PM

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