Farming: Martyrs Need Not Apply

My Generation

Farming is hard but we don't need to be martyrs about it, especially to our new online friends.

Published on: January 17, 2013

Every once in awhile, I get fired up about something and write about it. It goes to print and before I know it, we start getting letters. Or technically, emails. Even the occasional in-person comment. And it turns out other people are fired up about it, too.

Honestly, that's exciting.

And that's what happened following our January issue, when I wrote about the recent inclination of some farmers who have begun cultivating an "online presence" to tell their story in a way that casts them as martyrs: "just slaving away out here in the hinterlands, to produce food for everyone else..."

The entire idea had been nagging away at me for some time, and then a phone conversation with a fellow Farm Progress colleague solidified the whole thing for me. He told of the tweet (mentioned below) and of his frustration with those farmers (and those who are paid to communicate for them) who act like as if farmers are working for free, slaving to produce food for a public that's lazy.

So, I wrote about it. And now, the emails are coming in, and it turns out my colleague and I may not be the only ones who feel that way.

(Whew. That's always a relief.)

And here, in case you missed it in print, is my "My Generation" column from January. Or, you can click here to read the PDF version - it looks just like the page in your magazine!


Farmers: Beware the pit of 'woe is me'

The tweet went something like this: "Here we are, working hard to feed the nation while our customers relax on the couch." It appeared on a Sunday evening. And the farmer may or may not have attached a photo of himself loading seed into his new planter, pulled behind a flashy 250-hp tractor.

It might as well have been hashtagged, #woeisme.

"But this is truth!" you may say. Farmers often work overtime, nights and weekends. Especially during planting and harvest. And calving. And more.

Then there are the bumper stickers that say something like, "Thank a farmer." Or, "If you had three meals today, it's because of a farmer."

"Well, yeah, that's right!" you may say. Farmers grow the food.

But are we forgetting something, in the midst of our "telling-our-story" pride?

Perhaps we're forgetting that a lot of non-farmers work overtime, or work an extra job on the side. Or that their hard-earned paycheck paid for the food that farmers may have raised, but they bought and prepared.

And how do those folks feel when they see farmers taking full credit? Do they wonder what's up with these proud farmers and their high-dollar machinery? Or do they think the family farm is about drudgery and pity?

Agriculture has become more adept at telling its story and reaching the non-farm masses, and many more farmers - and paid professionals - are doing a fine job of sharing what we do with the non-farming public. But farmers and those paid professionals, and particularly those engaging in social media, need to beware the martyr syndrome.

Namely, that this is not a woe-is-me job. Sure, we work long hours. Often on holidays. Snow days stink. Getting chased around the lot by a cow is not exactly your average on-the-job-hazard. And most people probably don't understand just how dedicated we really are.

As a teenager, I showed cattle all over the countryside. I remember very distinctly sitting on the show box and feeling sorry for people who didn't know what I knew about cattle. I really looked down on people who asked crazy questions ("Will cows bite? The girls don't have horns, right?") and who didn't work as hard as me, as if they weren't nearly as smart as me. Partly that was teenager, but partly it was arrogance. And I've learned as I've gotten to know Chicago moms and consumers all over the country that they aren't stupid and they aren't lazy. They're just different. They come from different backgrounds and that informs their approach to the world in different ways. It informs their opinions. They may not do everything just the way I would, and that's OK. But I'm not better than them, just because I farm.

Here's the deal. We raise food, and we are the first link in the food chain. We work hard, and we love what we do. We may not get paid enough for the risks we take, but some years we profit handsomely. But beyond all of that, we have a pretty sweet deal. If you recall our entire cover story from the month of November, we at Prairie Farmer shared a wealth of reasons why farmers love what they do. In many cases, it boiled down to those things you can't put a price on: raising family on the farm, enjoying wide open spaces, working for yourself.

I was blessed to have grown up on a farm. I painted barn roofs and baled hay and didn't spend (much) time in town, and I learned lessons I couldn't have learned in any other way. Today, my husband and I are blessed to raise our children on the farm. They're small but they're learning to work, too, and learning the benefits of our farm life outweigh the downsides.

We are not martyrs. We're business people, with a heck of a benefits package. Let's be careful - whether online or in the coffee shop - not to confuse the two.


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  26. Bill Pete says:

    You must live in a farming bubble. Get out in the real world and see the derision farmers face. Since EWG has made access to our subsidies just a few key strokes away, we have them thrown into our faces early and often at any mention of agriculture. I'm sick of defending them and I can almost feel the pain of the GOP after their party has been destroyed by their conservative wingnuts. Would you believe that they are giving away an AR 15 assault rifle at their Lincoln Day celebration?!!!!!!!

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    Another well-grounded Spangler writing. Your ideas are well received up here in Dairyland. Farming is a way of life and should be treated as such. Land rich and money poor. Good luck in 13!

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    As someone who's never lived on a farm, this is a really interesting read. I do appreciate your hard work and am happy to hear the great benefits of being a farmer.