Filling Our Plates - With Thanks to Farmers

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I am not a farmer. I was not raised on a farm. I have to go back several generations to find farming in my family, in rural western Ohio, where many farms still thrive today. But at the tender age of 25, I was quickly thrust into the world of farming as part of a work project. And I’ve never looked back.

Along this 25-year journey, I have encountered some of the finest people I will ever know. They are good people – young and old, fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and young generations still to come. They have small, organic, niche farms and major multi-state, large-scale farms, and everything in between. Many produce the foods we eat, while others produce food for livestock and poultry, grain for fuel or crops for fiber.

With limited exception, I have met people of integrity, character, faith and compassion. Size doesn’t matter; large or small, farmers are people who understand the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to “get a little dirty” every day.

These are folks who don’t get the same days off as the rest of us do. Animals need care, fields need to be tended, foods need to be processed, and trucks need to transport what the farmers produce to the rest of us. And thank goodness they do, because without them we wouldn’t enjoy some of the lowest food prices in the world and those who are hungry would face even greater struggles.

Almost every day, I hear people who don’t know about farmers or don’t understand farming talk about the bad actors.  They’re concerned about food safety, about the environment, about the welfare of farm animals, and about long-term sustainability. There are bad actors; it’s true. I’ve known some; I’ve even helped some turn the corner. Others have not.

Do you know who is troubled by the bad actors more than anyone? The farmers themselves, because long ago they recognized that in order to keep doing what they were doing and to have the opportunity to maintain, grow and pass their farms on to the next generation; they would need consumers to be confident both in their practices and to believe in their intention to do the right thing.

And that led to a lot of changes in farming, not only in the practices themselves, but in how we talk about them. The private and humble farmers of the past, who simply wanted to just get the job done, now recognize that transparency and openness has value, and that by engaging consumers in what they do, we can make better connections and achieve greater understanding. That’s important to the future of farming and food production – and nothing should be a greater priority. Indeed, food availability and affordability, clothing and fuel, rural life and the jobs farming provides, and certainly our long-term domestic food security – these are at the center of who we are and all we do.

My little piece of the puzzle is a small one, but one that brings me such joy. It’s been an honor and richly meaningful to help them communicate, to find the right words, and to create positive, trusting relationships with stakeholders.

I’m grateful each day that a small group of farmers from Ohio made me part of their lives so many years ago. And I am deeply thankful for the friendships that I have made, and the opportunities that I have been given to have an insider’s view of one of the greatest food systems in the world – make that THE greatest food system in the world.

On National Farmer’s Day and every day, I stand in awe of all these farmers do. I celebrate their contributions to our communities, states and nation, and I say a very heartfelt THANK YOU.