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AgriSnobs or AgriChoices? The Faces of Food & Agriculture

August 25, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week I traveled to Austin Texas to attend the AgChat Cultivate & Connect Conference. As always, it’s an incredible opportunity to talk with like minded people. It’s a chance to talk with those in different types of management and vastly different agriculture than us.

Sometimes the biggest lessons come from within and this is certainly true this year. This is a post that might be uncomfortable for some, probably will make some angry, maybe will be the end of a discussion for some and the start of one for others.

At our first conference we coined the term agnerds – someone who likes agriculture and is always interested in learning more about agriculture both within our realm and beyond it. This year it keeps coming up to me agrisnobs is the word.

 

Most know what snobs are. If you need a definition –

  1. One who despises, ignores, or is patronizing to those he or she considers inferior.

  2. One who is convinced of his or her superiority in matters of taste or intellect.

Put another way:

A snob is a person who believes in the existence of an equation between status and human worth.[1] The term also refers to a person who believes that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellect, wealth, education, ancestry, power, physical strength, class, taste, beauty, nationality, fame, extreme success of a family member or friend, etc. Often this form of snobbery reflects the snob’s personal attributes. For example, a common snobbery of the affluent is the belief that wealth is either the cause or result of superiority, or both.

wpid-20140821_134525.jpgSo, applying this to agriculture it can be taken many ways. And it seems the line in the sand perhaps came to visibility with a comment made by panelist Addie Broyles (left in photo) when she spoke of the farmers she knows as being poor financially and wanting to help. The ripple through the room was perceptible. She wrote a post about the experience and for some it seems to have generated discussion, for others perhaps less willingness to accept those differences within agriculture. It felt like I alone identified with her comment.

Thou shalt not talk about money. Asking what size farm or how many cattle is considered rude in rural areas because it’s like asking how much money one has. Yet at the bristle of being poor, many farmers brought up the discussion of state average income for farmers. Separation from those farmers like Ms. Broyles knows. Where some small, organic farmers have used animosity and snobby tactics as a marketing tactic, this was a kickback.

For the first time I felt defensive of what I do and it wasn’t towards “them” out there – it was with those who ‘understand’ and ‘accept all sizes and types of farms. Do we? Do we really?

Because if we do, how do we drive separation, distinction…difference that those who make less money are inferior? They somehow aren’t smart enough to make more money, or aren’t serious enough or don’t have a strong enough work ethic. From Ms. Broyles’ article:

I’ve been ruminating on my eye-opening gaff and am still unsettled by this disparity between the hard life I see local farmers trying to make for themselves by selling mostly organic produce produce and meat (or at least grass-fed/pastured) at farmers markets and this world of high-dollar agriculture based on production methods that are so often vilified in the media and countless recent documentaries.

When I got involved in the agchat community on Twitter, all types and sizes of agriculture were welcome, and still are from the words of the core group of people in the organization.

But where there’s a shift money is a part of it, as is clear with a New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference planned for November. “Farm Better. Eat Better. Feed the World.” Not. One. Farmer. There’s popular culture folks, authors and others telling what agriculture should do, but for $1,400 not one farmer discussing what we do and why. Shouldn’t farmers be center stage at that kind of an event? Or is enough to have others tell those farmers what to grow, how to grow it and what to do? Agrisnobs. They want food from small farms but actually helping those like us…like Ms. Broyles identifies with in her area? Oh no – we don’t want to hear from THEM! Agrisnobs. They don’t have a problem taking speaking fees and patting us on the head in a condescending fashion when it takes green money to keep operating…but we’re greedy for wanting that to have a living wage. Agriculture is greedy to want education for their kids, a little money in the bank and the ability to not travel on a shoestring. The drink ticket on some nights would probably pay our feed bill for a month. Does it matter?

The push back from larger farmers who take offense at being looked down at – their own sense of justification of “we’re not poor…how dare you think that.” Indeed, in a good year many make more than poverty level wages. And many struggle to provide what we can in niche markets to a market that may or may not be there for us. Really be there. When we push the ebooks and other items, it’s to help fill in those blanks that are short from other sales. It’s survival.

wpid-20140822_113640.jpgIn the closing minutes of the agchat conference, with more emotion turbulence than a plane in a storm, Bruce Vincent told of the shame and guilt of his dad passing on an industry in trouble to another generation. The tears wasn’t just identification with the story. It’s knowing of those like Connor who don’t want to be in agriculture because it’s a struggle, because it’s uncertain, because it’s easier to let others do it and buy at the store.

Folks without farm choices we have no food choices. That isn’t an agriculture company it’s each idea, each agrisnob that thinks they’re better than the others due to economics and scale. Some small farms buy from large farms, and as long as the money’s coming, it seems large farms don’t think too much about let alone return support of those farms who support them both in words and dollars.

And it hurts. It hurts because here we could distance ourselves from “big ag” including friends and be justified in it’s “just business.” It’d be a lie. It’s not business only, it’s not just marketing it’s telling the American consumer you must choose me because what we do is BETTER than THEM. Agrisnobs.

We have, on one side, it seems, those who “support” us defining and telling what we do without ever SEEING what we do. On the other end there’s large operations serving a different market who patronize because, bless our little farm hearts, we just play at it for 60-70 hours per week to survive another week. We sweat selling things, trying to finance those little $500-1000 projects, getting promised things that never happen and much more. Don’t tell me I’m not serious. Especially when part of that time in sticking up for true food choices I talk to your market too! It is patronizing and makes me want to say things I should not say in social media.

It’s the intolerant comments made towards those who are smaller or see a different perspective or a different view. It might not be intended, and probably often isn’t. That doesn’t dull the barbed points. I don’t know if there’s answers and, like many including Ms. Broyles, am still thinking about conversations, intentions, reactions and, yes, emotions.

If it wasn’t for emotions it’d be just business. Emotions are involved in food choices, in farm choices and in daily choices – for all of us. May we not let the condescension of agrisnobs put food choices in the knife of division.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2014 6:07 AM

    Well said.

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  1. A Message From God | Food, Farm, Life Choices

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