If you think everyone in agriculture is on the same page, educated the same, with the same goals, take time to attend a weekly auction at the old-time livestock sale barn nearest to you. Odds are you may come away with a different opinion.
After my most recent visit to the Johnson County Sales Pavilion near Amity to sell lambs and a steer, I would say that rural America is a melting pot of full-time farmers, with plenty of part-timers mixed in. The part-timers may be just as passionate about their herd of 12 goats or flock of 20 ewes as the grain farmer is with his 4,000 acres of crops.
Today, at this sale barn at least, the first half-hour is devoted to selling chickens, rabbits, pigeons, doves, mushrooms, tomatoes- you name it, they will sell it. And that's what a good part of the crowd is there to see and either sell or bid on. There was a day when nearly every farm in the Midwest had a few chickens. There are more part-time farmers with chickens today than you might imagine.
In the 1960 farm magazines, ads for chicken feed were still a big deal. They were aimed at farmers with flocks of a few thousand hens. Those days are gone, with Rose Acres and other large egg companies raising millions of birds and doing it more efficiently. But the day of a family in the country keeping enough chickens to have their own eggs seems alive and well.
For some, the goal was to buy a dairy calf that was a few days old. One family next to me was as excited to get the nod on four dairy calves as I've seen commercial farmers who just spent thousands on a tractor or combine at an auction. Whether it's a hobby, for 4-H, or because they want to raise their own meat, or raise the animals to make a few dollars of the few acres of pasture they have, there are still people who like to trade in such commodities as baby dairy calves.
Oh yes, I forgot. They sold watermelons at the start of the auction. Bid off how many you want and go get them out of the truck outside. And they sold hay too. If someone brings it, someone will buy it.
A decade or two back I figured these auctions would disappear and no longer be part of the fabric of rural agriculture. Instead, it seems they've adapted, and while the clientele is no longer just farmers looking for feeder cattle, it is people living in the country, wanting to capture a part of the country life.
It's good to remember these people are out there. Agriculture is still just more than huge tractors and 250-acre cornfields.