Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kids and Agriculture

Spring has sprung, the grass is getting greener, winter is dead and all the farmers and ranchers sang Hallelujah! It was a long hard winter but the calendar and the ever increasing temperatures tell us that all seasons eventually fade into the next. But I must say this one isn’t fading fast enough.
Earth Day is another sign that spring is finally here. Earth Day is a time for all of us to celebrate this planet we rely on and a time to reflect on how we can take better care of it. I admit that I like the idea of Earth Day and I like it even more that many of our farm organizations have embraced the idea. After all, farmers and ranchers are the original and the best environmentalists.
Our county has chosen to host our annual Day on the Farm on the Wednesday closest to Earth Day. The Eugene Berges family graciously allows us to use their farmstead and Pottawatomie County farmers and ranchers provide informational stops for each group. All of the fourth graders in our county are invited and most of the schools attend. I know many other counties have similar programs and I think they are the key to educating consumers about agriculture.
Each year I provide a stop where I talk about our native prairie and talk about the different kinds of grasses. I know, what kind of an ag geek talks to kids about warm season grasses. Well, that would be me. I have to say I am always impressed with how much the kids know about the prairie but I am also constantly surprised by how little they know about agriculture.
Pottawatomie County is still a relatively rural county and much of the county’s income is based on agriculture. The kids grow up with fields and pastures all around them and yet many of them do not know very much about where their food comes from. I am also surprised at how few have ties to the farm. Often each class does have one or two kids that have parents or grandparents who farm, but many of the kids do not have any close relatives involved in agriculture. This event, many times, is their first real exposure to farming and ranching.
Just why this is important really hit home last week. My daughter came home from school and told us about a video they had watched as part of one of her classes. The video was about the benefits of organic food and organic farming. Please, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against organic farming and ranching or my fellow farmers or ranchers who choose to do so. I do have a problem with using organic food production as a way to vilify the rest of us who choose conventional agriculture.
My daughter told me that the video said that organic food was safer, healthier and better for the environment. My daughter knew that this was not true and that the crops and livestock we produced were just as safe, healthy and environmentally friendly as their organic counterparts. Her fear was that her classmates would not know the difference. She went on to say that in that particular class that she was the only one who’s family farmed or ranched.
This is not the first time one of my kids have come home from school and told about incorrect or one sided information being presented at school. My problem with this was not that the kids were taught about organic food production, I have no problem with them learning about it. What I do have a problem with is the idea that the rest of us are producing an unhealthy product that is bad for the environment. That is completely untrue. GMO crops, modern herbicides, modern veterinary medicine have made it possible for us to produce a safer product, with fewer inputs, produce more of it while protecting the world around us. All of this has been proven time and time again, but we must be granted access to present a fair and balanced view of real world agriculture.
That is why our Earth Day celebrations and Day on the Farm events are so important. It is an opportunity for us to tell our story, let the consumers meet us and to explain how we grow their food and why. We are faced with a daunting task over the next couple of decades. To grow more food, with less acres and continue to make the air, land and water around us better, but we have to have the support of our consumers. We are the original environmentalists, we know it, but it is up to us to tell the rest of the world.

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