By Amelia Kent
Over the past few months, I’ve had the honor of presenting at a few seminars. In my first presentation at a grass-fed beef workshop, I used a slide that included the bullets above. As I was preparing for my second presentation focusing on profitability, I couldn’t help but include the same slide again, albeit a bit tangential.
You see, the second presentation was shortly after a conversation I had with a dear friend. She and her family grow produce and direct market to their local community through both famers markets as well as a CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture. CSAs can take on various models, shapes and sizes, but in essence depend upon the local community to help fund their crops on a crop-share design. A household participates in the crop by purchasing a produce box on a weekly basis on whatever the farm is picking that week. The crop seasons are variable, but usually consist of several weeks per season, and multiple seasons per year, climate allowing. Just as on other farms, these farmers are continuously planning crop varieties, soil health and planting rotations to allow for maturity and picking, and marketing their crops. While CSA is still an unfamiliar term to many in agriculture, this model has been around for a few decades, and an intrinsic benefit to all of agriculture is the sheer number of consumers with whom this one farmer is reaching. The same can be said at farmers markets as well.
What on earth did we talk about that made me think of that slide? My friend is also involved with Farm Bureau and was telling me about a few conversations she’d had recently that frustrated me. One of those conversations was with an acquaintance who farmed in a conventional crop setting. In that conversation, that person didn’t realize that my friend’s farm is a legitimate farm with some of the same challenges as on other farms. This person also acted threatened by niche farming, with the perception that niche farmers generally are disrespectful to other types of farming, including those that are larger scale and market their crops in conventional outlets. Thanks in large part to my friend’s patience and willingness to participate in this dialog, some of the air was cleared and it sounds like the other person gained an appreciation for other types of farming.
Another past conversation my friend shared with me was at a farmers market, where some of her friends were asking her quite critical questions about Farm Bureau. Some of this dialog included accusations that Farm Bureau and other industry organizations are not hospitable to smaller-scale farmers and those who participate in niche marketing, and that these groups only focus on “big ag.” Thanks in part to leadership training, my friend’s patience once again persevered and she was able to answer these questions and clarify some misperceptions and even invited them to a meeting.
Did you know the average size of a cow herd in the United States is 40 head? Did you also know that the livestock advisory committee within Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation is one of the largest advisory groups? An inherent benefit of smaller farms is more votes from those with an agricultural perspective. In a society in which those engaged in agriculture represent less than 2% of the population, these agricultural perspectives are incredibly important.
I read an article describing how farmers’ social license to farm is under attack, as seen in rural votes against farms and processing facilities in North Carolina, Kansas and Oregon. When the majority of voters do not understand what we do on a daily basis, it is up to us to educate them and reinforce our social license to farm, ranch, and responsibly tend to our daily business.
That same conversation with my friend about her encounters troubles me because we’re all in this social challenge together. Most people in our society are at least two and three generations removed from any farm experience. We need to present a solid front representing agriculture, though we may farm and market our crops differently. If we want respect from our communities, we must respect our fellow farmers first.
Amelia Kent and her husband, Russell, raise beef cattle and hay in East Feliciana Parish. Amelia is a past chair of Louisiana’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, is currently a member of the - Partners in Advocacy Leadership program with AFBF, and serves on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Find them on Facebook at Kent Farms; or on Instagram and Twitter @kentfarms_la.