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Transparency in Food, Agriculture

October 3, 2011

Talking about agriculture and food is something that some would say is an obsession here at SlowMoneyFarm. It’s an integral part of the operation every bit as much as selecting and care of the animals or planting a new raised bed. It’s something that we need for a variety of reasons but it’s also something that all of agriculture needs.

We hear over and over that consumers want to know how their food is grown. I’ve worked for years to communicate with folks on that topic and met with yawns – as long as it’s at the store it’s not an issue. I’m also often told I’m ahead of my time as now society is catching up! About 2 1/2 years ago there was a single post on Twitter about teaching farm folks about effectively using social media, and a chat with the hashtag #agchat – and almost every Tuesday night since I’m there, sometimes more active than others depending on the topic. Why?

The idea behind #agchat is a place where farmers of all sizes and types can reach out to communicate with consumers. It’s become so popular that the third Tuesday of each month #foodchat is held instead, which has dealt with topics from wine to Christmas baking to grilling! People who think that all farmers do is hide behind the barn and farm are surprised to see real farmers – lots of them! – eager to talk with consumers as well as other farmers. Farmers are surprised that in many cases we’re not perceived as “evil” as it sometimes seems with media and activist attention. It allows meeting on one very important, critical standpoint. We ALL have an interest in safe, affordable food and food choices.

Does that mean that there aren’t misunderstandings sometimes? No! Sometimes it’s very difficult for those with no connection to agriculture and those who live it to communicate effectively through the written word in 140 characters! Things sound dismissive that isn’t meant to; things sound judgmental that isn’t meant to. By persisting to understand – and many in agriculture including ourselves have really tried to increase LISTENING as well as talking. Obviously we’re passionate about what we do – so it’s hard to listen when someone recites criticism from an activist group, and while that’s ignored it may *sound* the same coming from you who just wants no toxins in your family’s food! Breathe – be patient – give us a chance! We do get it!

Like many of our fellow “Agnerds” we aren’t limited just to Twitter. We’ve employed Facebook, Blogs and – yes! – even videos. There are many who say you should visit farms and many of us agree, but that’s not always possible. However, it *is* possible with technology!

Those in agriculture often have limitations that critics claim is “hiding” – in our case we’re not a large operation but much of what affects Tyson’s and Smithfield’s also affects us. Many consumers away from the farm are surprised to learn what many refer to as a “factory farm” is rare. Be it large or small, farmers care and live for their animals. They do take care of the environment because they live there! Their kids are drinking that water and breathing that air.

However, even as a small operation we’re limited to visitors. We cannot have people tour our flock simply because we don’t know where you’ve been and for security and biosecurity reasons we have a #1 goal of protecting our animals. We are also NPIP inspected – the National Poultry Improvement Program is a USDA program that has an annual inspection and testing of birds. We must maintain a health program that includes limiting visitors, no exhibitions other than fairs where all are NPIP tested/inspected, and buying only from other NPIP flocks. The test is for a strain of salmonella – we’re clean of it. We cannot risk it being brought in – so if we take birds to (for example) a petting farm those birds cannot come home. There are similar issues for pigs and other livestock with both large and not so large farms.

We also raise rabbits, specifically rare breeds of rabbits. These are animals that can be used for show, breeding, meat and/or fur. We’ve had herbs in the garden and have been growing and expanding the operation this year on an extremely tight budget. We’ve shared this – the good, the bad, the frustrating, the rewards – all with our readers on our blog and those following us in other forms of social media. We don’t hide our birds – they’re on Youtube!

We’ve recently flown in the face of experts with a video and blog addressing the uses of drugs in livestock and tattoo identification of rabbits. Although you’re not here with us, you can SEE exactly what’s done through as open and transparent form of communication as we can be.

There are many following very much the same thoughts. There is some division in agriculture but there is also a huge amount of support! The goal is a united teamwork to bring you the “just consumer” a better, clear cut understanding. We don’t want to “educate” or “lecture” you – we want to talk and engage discussion that is open. We want to encourage food choices! Whether it’s buying certified organic, what you can afford from Safeway, farmers markets, CSA, custom raised operations (as we are) or whatever you choose to eat. We speak from experience – and that’s where that network is critical.

Here at present time we don’t have land for pasturing cattle, although there is a background in both beef and dairy cattle. However, we can through our list of friends and contacts pull up active dairy folks that are milking several times per day (both organic and ‘conventional’!) and beef folks (both pasture based and that sell to feedlots or have worked on feedlots). No PR firms, no rehearsed things (other than answering similar questions repeatedly!) – just beef producer and burger eater having a conversation!

As an industry we’re trying to reach out and talk with you. Personal attacks, harassment, threats and in some cases on up to death threats, threats against children and family members and others make it very difficult to not be on guard. It’s often said 4% of the population feeds 96% who don’t live on farms. Actually that minority feeds 100% of the population. With production of food, fiber and fuel agriculture is diverse. For many of us we’re someone tied to our ‘life’ – there are no long vacations as there’s no one to care for our farm while we’re gone! It’s a choice we made – and the choices YOU make allow us to continue and grow. It challenges us to strive to do better. It makes us put words to discussing and explaining what we do, which sometimes leads to finding better ways to do things.

Let’s have a conversation! Be it #agchat or #foodchat on Twitter, Thank a Farmer or AgProud on Facebook or Farm Bloggers (where you can see a variety of farm blogs in one location)

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