March is National Agriculture Month with March 22-28 being National Agriculture Week and March 24th is National Agriculture Day. Since 1973, Americans have been asked to recognize and celebrate the contribution that agriculture has made in their lives. Those of us in farming are asked to host Ag Day events, encourage teachers to do classroom lessons focused on agriculture and our Elected officials are expected to rally around the celebration.
Although I didn’t realize it then, I participated in the first-ever Ag Week celebration. As an elementary school student, I proudly wore my 4-H uniform to school and was joined in this effort by my sisters and other 4-Hers at my school. As instructed by my 4-H community club leader, I told other students and teachers about my farm animals and sometimes brought lambs to school to further my marketing campaign. Being in agriculture was a badge of honor –other kids envied my farming lifestyle and agriculture roots.
Things have changed and not for the good.
Farmers have gone from being on the offense to the defense. I hear from animal agriculturalists and vineyard managers on a daily basis about their concern to be quoted in a newspaper article or included in a tour because that level of exposure could make them the next target for our industry’s critics, whether individual zealots or organizations suggesting they are for “social justice”.
Recently, Doug Beretta shared an experience he had at his family’s ranch. As most know, Doug’s dairy sits on the much-traveled Llano Road in Santa Rosa and his newborn calves run freely in a large pen that abuts the public road. For several generations, families have stopped in the Beretta Dairy driveway or pulled off on the shoulder of the road to marvel at and take pictures of the cow/calf pairs or brethren of calves racing around the pen. The Berettas have always willingly shared this experience with all the looky-loos –but things have changed.
These days, when a Beretta family member or any one of our local livestock or poultry producers see a car near their property, they must go on high alert, especially if a car has out of the area or out of state plates. Simultaneously, the farmer evaluates the activity of the car’s occupants and scans the skyline for drones. After all, we have learned that activists are often from out of the area and use the public access roads to take pictures via camera or drone.
In the case of Doug’s experience, in the course of the same number of days, he met two wonderful families from out of state who just wanted to let their children see calves. Once he learned they were supportive of dairying and eager to learn more, he brought them into his yard and let them watch the afternoon milking. There is no better form of ag education.
This is not the norm – but the Berettas know they have nothing to hide. Looking through the lens of animal husbandry, they know they are providing the utmost care for their animals. They also understand that every day is “ag day” and covet the importance of sharing farming practices with consumers. From a standpoint of protecting themselves from animal activists, should the Beretta’s put a solid, eight-foot-high fence along the roadside where their calves are housed? Probably so, but what a shame that this must be considered.
Why are farmers being so heavily criticized when data shows that agriculturalists are doing more for carbon sequestration, sustainability, water-use reduction, water quality and air quality than ever before? I blame it on fake news and crowdsourcing through social media.
“Old media”, like newspapers and even radio broadcasts, are transparent when it comes to distinguishing between a news story and an editorial – and up until fifteen years ago, this was how folks received information. Along came websites, blogging, Facebook and all the other virtual media outlets that allow anyone to share anything, regardless of its origin, timeliness or validity. Such is the case with many of the anti-animal agriculture posts and stories shared by the DxE followers.
How do we combat this norm and overcome the inaccurate information spewed by our critics? At Sonoma County Farm Bureau we are using the same tools (newspaper, Facebook, Eblasts) our foes are using in a different way. We don’t need to sensationalize our submissions – we merely share the facts. Thanks to a grant from the California Cattle Council and financial support dedicated by our board, we are undertaking an outreach program aimed at sharing the amazing work done by our farmers with the masses. Be watching the Highway 101 electronic sign in Rohnert Park, listening to our weekly show on KRSH radio, tracking our Facebook page and reading Farm News where we are telling our farmers’ stories…stories that are not fake news, but dialog that is built from generations doing the right thing for the right reasons.
I appreciate the country recognizing Ag Week and Ag Day annually, but those of us in the trenches need to make every day a celebration and learning experience about agriculture – after all, agriculture touches everyone every day and deserves our daily appreciation.