A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of attending a leadership class in New York City. Yes, the Big Apple, and let me tell you it was a real culture shock for this farm boy. It was a unique experience that I will never forget and it drove home one point for certain. I am a farm boy for sure and I need wide open spaces.
One of our exercises for this class was to take the subway from our hotel in Newark, New Jersey to a predetermined point in New York. This was to simulate commuting into the city each morning. After accomplishing our assigned task we all assembled back at the meeting room for a debriefing.
This was an agriculture leadership class, so my fellow classmates had similar backgrounds to mine.The debriefing was very spirited with all of us having very strong feelings about the experience. Those feelings could be summed up as claustrophobia, anxiety, hurried, crushed, and just a general feeling of close quarters and being boxed in.
Many commented (I being one of those) about how they could never live in a place like this and could not understand why people would chose to do so. We laughed and joked about the experience, more than once suggesting that we were lucky to live in wide open spaces.
The session came to a close and I flew out of the Newark airport and settled into the long flight home. Soon I became aware of the young couple sitting next to me. I am not sure where their ultimate destination was but I am relatively sure it was not Kansas City. How do I know this?
As we approached Kansas City, they both craned their necks and looked out the window. If you have not flown into Kansas City, I need to set the stage for you. Kansas City's airport is located in a relatively rural edge of the metropolis. The runways extend into cow pastures and fields.
I listened in amusement as the young couple went on and on about how they must be flying into the great frontier. This place was surely something from Green Acres complete with Uncle Jed, Jethro and Elly Mae also. They laughed and made jokes about how primitive things must be in Kansas City and just could not understand why people would want to live in such a backwater place.
Suddenly I got it, I had similar feelings about New York City and all because it was somewhere foreign to me. It was surroundings that I was not familiar with and a place that stretched my comfort zone. So were either of us wrong? No. Were we a bit hypocritical and condescending? Of course.
With that I realized the problem we have in agriculture (and most likely in many other areas) is a lack of understanding for people and areas that are different than our home. We need to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who live in those areas and then maybe we can understand their love for that part of the world and conversely if they had an understanding of our part of the worl.
That is why, as farmers and ranchers, we need to open our homes up to those who have never set foot in a rural area. We need to show them why we love our open spaces, quiet nights, starry skies and distant horizons. That understanding should foster trust and understanding and then we should be able to find some middle ground. Shoot, we might even find that we aren't really all that different.