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Agri-culture Today

March 3, 2012

Timing is everything, and this morning Darin Grimm’s post on trust made some timely comments in relation to this one I’ve been pondering all week.

I see a disconnect in culture that goes beyond the living areas. Among the definitions of culture is “the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group.”Among agriculture people there is a certain code, customs that are understood. Things that are seen as normal in urban or city life are not so in the agrarian culture.

This came up recently in a forum where someone asked a farmer how many acres he farmed. When it was pointed out that it was the same as asking how much is in your bank account it met with “you’re kidding right?” No, actually not. It’s considered rude and intrusive in many areas to ask how many acres someone runs or how many cattle, hogs, sheep or other animals they own. It’s a measure that is seen as personal.

Now if someone volunteers that information that can be seen in various ways too. Much like the story about the urban resident telling the farmer about his expensive car he only drives once in a while, and the farmer responds with his combine that is worth five times the cost of the car and he uses it twice per year. It can be seen as bragging. It can be seen as a patronizing pat on the head…”I’ve raised 30,000 hogs per year for ten years, so have figured out what works” when the same management may not work for the farmer who is seeking to market 300 hogs per year!

It can be a culture based on function. Cats often aren’t purebred, but valued for their ability to keep rodent populations in check. This has been embraced by those with urban feral cat populations, who in some areas provide spayed cats to farms, where they can live with basic care but without the expectations of being a pet. For many a good horse or dog, or even cow, is not dependent on pedigree either. They simply earn their keep.

It can be seen as old fashioned, and some condemn it as “get with the modern age”. If you’ve ever tried to start one of those modern combines you’ll find more technology than most in the city are even aware of. However, it’s easy to stick with what works, and the rural culture is something that runs deep.

The passage of a recent “ag gag” bill in Iowa brings up additional controversy. “If they weren’t doing anything wrong” gets countered with “how would you like to be videotaped behind your back in your home” which then turns into “it was a business, not a home.” The disconnect is deep, because for many the business of a farm *is* the home. It’s where we spend well over a time card worth of work per week.

It’s personal. It’s our culture. And it’s an easier conversation when those we talk to at least try to understand that.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2012 12:49 PM

    Thanks for linking to my post Jan.

    While the “how many acres do you farm/pigs do you feed” is an age old dilemma for agriculture, I think you do a great job of explaining in a logical, common sense way why the discomfort in sharing that exists.

    • March 3, 2012 2:07 PM

      I think many truly don’t see it as anything but curiosity. How many cars do you have, how many . It’s different if we were to counter with “let me see your portfolio” as “that’s personal!” So is our financial information. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  2. March 3, 2012 6:00 PM

    Jan, there is truth here. (And at Darin’s blog, too.) We just hosted a shearing day at our farm–had somewhere around 200 folks here. Fabulous time. But it feels very personal when the 59th person in a row wrinkles up her face and asks “But WHY do you shear them NOW–don’t they get COLD?” as though we planned it for maximum torment for the sheep. We answer patiently, over and over, the same questions, because we know that they are curious and concerned. And we know that, over time, exposure to a real farm is the only true antidote to the lies and misconceptions that spread so quickly…

    • March 3, 2012 10:59 PM

      Lona it’s true we may feel like we’re repeating forever, but the answer may be the first time that person heard it. Persist! Thanks for visiting!

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