The Aftermath of Suzanne

My Generation

Response to last week's blog letter to Suzanne Somers has unearthed a world of thinking that we in agriculture are just not well-enough exposed to.

Published on: January 31, 2011

So last week, I posted a blog letter to Suzanne Somers, hoping to shed light on the many agricultural inaccuracies she shared on national television. And you might say, it struck a chord. Oh, did it ever. I am humbled and awed.

As of this afternoon, more than 600 people have shared it on Facebook. Other people are sharing it on Twitter. (I am new to tweeting – twittering? – and I don't know how to measure this exactly, but it seems to be happening.) And as for the blog itself, it's gotten more page views in three days than it normally racks up in a month. Which, apparently, is something.

What all of this means is that conversations are happening. People in ag are sharing it, and their non-ag friends are asking questions. Sometimes they're calling me a liar. Or just plain ignorant. But I'm ok with that, because it means we have an opportunity. We can flex our down-on-the-farm-authority muscles and share the truth with these decidedly non-farm folks. We can also, simply by example, show why it's important to get their information from people who are actually growing their food. Not from, you know, say Michael Pollan. Or Food, Inc. Or Paul McCartney. Or Suzanne Somers.

Really, if you want a look at how the other half lives, take a look at Suzanne Somers' website, or her Facebook page. People listen to her. They buy her (many) products. They think she's pretty and if they just read her book or buy her stuff, they will be beautiful as well. Honestly, it's sad. People are desperate for something – anything – to believe in. Read the comments on her Facebook page (click on "most recent" at the top). You'll see what I mean.

And you'll see why we need to keep having conversations with these folks, every single chance we get. Because we may not get that many opportunities. Like for example, I have a wonderful friend in California, who spent some time in Illinois a few years back. So she gets what we do. She might have anyway, but now she has extra credibility when she says, "Hey I've been on these farms and these people know what they're talking about." She posted my blog on her Facebook page, and it immediately drew the condescension of one of her friends.

But my friend defended farmers as being a valuable source for truth, and I took the opportunity to share more, too. But her friend was very convicted about what she perceived as truth. She mentioned a variety of topics, including but not limited to: GM seed, cancer, grass-fed beef, dairy production and cow manure. She was absolutely wrong in every bit of what she was saying, though she said "tons of evidence" supported it. I tried to respond sincerely, and factually, and share exactly what we do and why we do it. The thing that got me, though, is that her take was that farmers are just ignorant. She doesn't blame them; they're just doing what they've been taught and are ignorant about the health issues.

Right-o. That makes it all better. (I apologize for the sarcasm, but that just really gets me. Like it's any better to say, "those poor farmers just don't know any better; they're just not smart enough to avoid being duped by xxxx company.")

An excerpt of my response: 


"I think you raise some excellent questions and I can tell you are passionate about what you eat - which is awesome, because I think we've gone far too long in this country with people not really thinking about what we farmers are doing to supply food. I think, though, I take umbrage to being called ignorant. Farmers are not ignorant. They are very aware of how genetically modified corn and soybeans were developed and are produced. In fact, I'm an editor for a farm magazine that works very hard to share information about technology (and biotechnology) that makes modern agricultural production safer and more efficient. …farmers have been studying the science behind RoundupReady soybeans (for example) since they came out back in the late '90s. Did you know that before RR beans, we farm kids used to walk fields with a hoe and chop down weeds? That was after the beans got too big to drive over with a tractor; before that, my dad would make several passes across the field with the tractor and rotary hoe or field cultivator and tear up the weeds. So now, with RR beans, we are burning far less diesel and using far less equipment. Plus we're conserving soil by reducing erosion (working the ground loosens it and makes it more likely to wash away in a heavy rain). Again, it's a tradeoff. Roundup is unbelievably safe and effective. I choose that over more tillage and more erosion…You mentioned Bt corn; did you know that Bacillus thuringiensis is a naturally-occurring soil microbe? Really, you don't get much more natural and organic than Bt. They found it in the dirt. When you insert the Bt gene into the corn plant, it makes a plant that kills off those nasty corn borers as soon as they start chewing on it. Which is truly amazing, when you consider how quickly a flush of corn borers can decimate a crop. Bt corn, with is naturally-occurring Bt gene, saves farmers from having to spray insecticides over the top of plants to kill the corn borers. So again, a better option, in a very complex system." 

Anyhoo, this is but one little example of what has proven to be a fascinating conversation. When I sat through a social media seminar last fall at the Commodities Conference, one of the things the researchers had discovered was that farmers were among the most believable sources of information, and farm wives in particular. The key, in just about any conversation, though, is to avoid being defensive. Ask the person what it is they are questioning and why they think that. Find a way to explain what you do in their terms. Be understanding of their concerns. Be friendly. No one wants to be made to feel stupid.

So, we'll see where this conversation leads. Also, no word yet from Suzanne. I sent the letter to the Today Show and our local NBC affiliate, too. No word from them either. But I'm not really holding my breath. The real conversations are happening right here, across the web.