By Amelia Kent
The dog days of summer will quickly turn to fall over the next few months, and our crops and calves are maturing with the same rapidity. As combines are rolling in other parts of the state and throughout the country, cattle producers like myself are gathering our cattle for weaning and shipping. In spite of the very long, hot, busy days, I believe harvest and shipping time for farmers and ranchers alike might be one of our proudest times of the year. I don’t say this lightly, as farmers and ranchers tend to be a very humble sort. Yet, we’ve worked tirelessly, bled and sweat to produce our crop. We have something tangible to show for it as we take those efforts to market.
Whether in the lines at the mill or standing outside the corral waiting on cattle to be sorted (and plenty of other examples as well), this time of year is the perfect opportunity to witness farmers talking about themselves. Where the usual topics might be how wet the spring and summer has been, the wildfires out west, and market prices, this is the rare time farmers are talking about their harvest conditions, crop year, yields, weights and prices.
Quite recently I had the opportunity to walk up to one of those same personal conversations a neighbor was having with my husband. This neighbor is the patriarch of a family full of three generations of cattle producers. Every August we have the privilege of helping them ship their cattle, and they return the favor to us a few weeks later. This particular conversation was during shipping and had a reminiscent tone, as that family leader was describing how he’s made a good life farming, he’s bought land, and the cattle business has treated him and his family well. Usually our conversations with him revolve around the cattle market and our shared appreciation for buckskin horses, but this particular day he was telling his story. And what a grand story his is to have built his livelihood and family around a cattle business he loves so deeply!
When I talk to farmer friends of mine about telling their own story, the response is often a very bashful glance at their feet, sometimes a smirk or a side-grin, and a dismissive comment along the lines that they’re not that egotistical and self-absorbed. When I talk about farmers with non-farmer friends of mine who live in urban and suburban settings, I get the impression many of them envision us with imagery similar to the American Gothic painting from the 1930s - the older woman and man standing beside each other; he’s wearing overalls under a coat and holding a pitchfork and she’s dressed equally plainly. These same non-farmer friends are incredibly intelligent, well-educated and are consumers. In addition to consuming foods and fibers we produce, they’re also consumers of information in all forms of media. Yet, much of the information they’re consuming about American food and agriculture is full of partial and misinformation about people like us: the farmers behind those crops, meats and fibers.
I’ve had the honor of meeting farmers and ranchers throughout the country that are some of the most thoughtful, innovative people I know. Given the market conditions in which we farm, we have to be innovative to continue to be viable. Another crucial component to our viability is telling our stories, whether to our policy makers, our neighbors, or those same consumers who think we look like the American Gothic couple. After all, if we don’t tell our own amazing stories, someone else will. Woven into those reports will be agendas and messaging very different than our awesome stories – personal narratives in the first person!
Storytelling comes in many forms and fashions. There isn’t a perfect, molded way to tell your story, and there are also various types of engagement and involvement through which to tell your story. Social media is a great, easy way to start with that story and can be as simple as pictures of happy cattle grazing and lush crops growing. If you happen to be marketing your own products in alternative manners, social media can even help spread that information. Leadership programs also are a great avenue to help develop your leadership qualities and shape your advocacy voice. The LSU AgLeadership Program is an excellent, lifelong resource, and applications for the incoming class are due September 6, 2017. There are similar programs offered through farmer and industry organizations. If I can share only one thing with you, it is this: if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu.
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.