Wait. Monsanto Isn't the Devil?

My Generation

An email from a friend reminds me that our world – and the farm arguments we hear – aren't so black and white.

Published on: May 16, 2012

I got an email this morning that reminded me of a truth that just keeps popping up these days: life is not always black and white. This is neither rocket science nor a surprise, but I'll be darned if something doesn't remind me of that just about every day. Maybe it's my age. Maybe it's the phase of the moon. Maybe it's the times. I don't know.

The email was innocent enough and was heartening on its own. It was from my friend, Doug Schemmer, announcing his last day at work and sharing his future contact information. Doug has spent 21 years working with Monsanto and is quitting in order to farm full-time instead. His father retired from their central Illinois farm following last fall's harvest, and in true fashion, Doug has carefully planned his exit from Monsanto, making sure all his obligations are fulfilled. Doug was involved with our Cultivating Master Farmers program from the very earliest discussions (I'm pretty sure Peggy Kaye called him "Dougie" in those meetings), and has contributed in endless ways to making the program successful.

But here's the thing. As I reflected on his email and what a wonderful opportunity this is for him, and on what a genuinely really very nice guy he is, another conversation came to mind. A conversation with a Chicago mom during our meetup last summer, where she blamed Monsanto for everything from controlling our food supply to killing our bees.

Indeed, she thought Monsanto might actually be Satan himself. And then Emily Webel shared with her how as farmers, we know some of the people who work for Monsanto. And they're really nice. They're our friends from college. They have little kids, just like we do. Sometimes they live down the road from us. They're the Doug Schemmers and the Andy Bartlows of the world.

And as I scroll through comment sections on food articles across the web, there are lots of people making the same case our Chicago mom friend did. Painting a single corporation with a large brush, blaming it for every evil of this world.

But the thing is, it's just not that easy. It's not that black and white. Behind that corporation – behind any number of corporations – are a lot of really good people. People like Doug Schemmer – a guy who grew up on a farm and who just wants to do a good job.

A friend shared a quote on Facebook yesterday, "The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinize or question."

That's the danger in an argument that paints with a large brush, isn't it? That you might miss the truth because your beliefs won't allow it? Let's try not to do that in agriculture; let's look and think and don't assume the black and white.