Watching my share of college football bowl games and NFL games over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed how crazy fans (i.e. fanatics) in the stands can get over their favorite teams. As a Husker fan myself, I can relate. We’ll shell out hard-earned cash for a seat at Memorial Stadium, to root for the guys in scarlet and cream.
NFL fans can be even more rabid. Tickets are expensive. Official sports apparel can be even more expensive, never mind the cost of a brat and a beverage. NFL players are well-paid athletes, but they are paid so well because what they do for a living provides an extremely entertaining past time for their fans. Football, at least for the fans of winning teams, provides a welcome respite from the doldrums and stress of everyday worries. Farmers understand stress, so football and other sports and hobbies are welcomed by farmers and ranchers too.
But what if farming was a spectator sport, like football? What if our nation’s farmers could garner the accolades and attentiveness of fans for their daily services of providing food and fiber for society?
I haven’t seen tractor driving or working cattle on a recent list of upcoming Olympic events. Yet, a few groups of farmers and ranchers, along with rural communities, have been able to cash in on a growing love of nostalgic rural life and an increasing awareness by consumers of where their food comes from.
Farmers’ markets in many rural towns have taken on a festival flare. There is often music, colorful booths and a fair-like atmosphere. How about rural festivals like the St. James Marketplace Heritage Fest each fall? The farm wives at St. James have entertained visitors with such high power contests as cow chip flipping, corn picking, straw bale throwing and my favorite (watch out), skillet throwing.
Rodeo, a long time Nebraska invention that dates back to Buffalo Bill Cody’s original 1882 “Old Glory Blowout” held in North Platte, now entertains fans and fanatics around the world. The original Cody rodeo was as much about pageantry and entertainment, as it was competition. Still, the competitions were important to the performances, and they included real life cowhands and ranchers. Many of today’s rodeo stars, particularly highly televised professional bull riders, got their start by roping cattle and riding horses on real ranches.
In the Great Plains, we take some of our assets for granted, like wide open spaces, grazing cows and starlit nights. Our daily routines involving the vistas and valleys around our own farms are probably valued by those who do not have access to those kinds of experiences regularly.
Farm festivals like threshing bees that hearken back to the days of steam tractors and real horsepower are savored by old farmers and folks who have just read about farm life. Some rural towns have embraced farm festivals and local crops and food, to draw new tourists to the area. Look at North Loup, where they still celebrate that valley’s heritage for raising and processing popcorn. It is amazing how a town with a few hundred people can give away around 30,000 bags of free popcorn over a two-day event. Of course, nothing draws a crowd like free food.
It is true that we take our fun and games pretty seriously. Farm policy and food systems are serious business too. And I doubt if tractor driving will ever find its way on the sports page, outside of the hometown newspaper. I can’t imagine that a local cow chip flipping champion would ever make it to the top story on Sports Center. But, maybe farmers and ranchers and rural communities can figure out other, more entertaining ways to raise the level of appreciation for the folks who put food on the table around the globe. When we make our positive farming message entertaining, that is when it is heard.