Jun 10, 2022
Building a better understanding of farm life

It can come down to our frame of reference. I have a good friend in California who grew up on a dairy farm. His father and grandfather were born in the Azores Islands and, as you might imagine, were both an important part of my friend’s upbringing on the dairy.

One of the other things that was important to that upbringing was the philosophy of hard work.

Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers

From a very young age, there were always chores that needed to get done. Cows needed to be milked and calves needed to be fed. Hay needed to be baled and the bales bucked. Silage needed to be planted, irrigated and harvested. There were chores that needed to be done before breakfast and going to school. There were chores that needed to be done after school, before and after dinner. That’s life in agriculture. There is always something else that needs to get done.

Summer days meant there was more time to do more. For my friend, there was work before the sun was up until after dark. But there was something else in it for him, too.

The fall of his freshman year in high school, my friend did well in the President’s Physical Fitness Program in physical education (PE). All that hard work and the long days had put him in really good shape.

Today, a physician would tell him he had a very low body mass index (BMI).

I’m not sure what they called it back then, but he was skinny and strong. The PE teacher, who was also the wrestling coach, took note of his conditioning. The coach encouraged him to try out for the wrestling team telling him his fitness would give him an edge on the mat.

My friend was excited. The coach wanted him to try out! Through the rest of the school day, he found it hard to concentrate but ran to get on the bus when the last bell rang. He knew that getting his father to allow him to go out for the team and take him away from his dairy chores for practice and matches was going to be a lift, so he carefully planned his ask.

When the bus got to his stop, my friend leapt out of the door as soon as the bus driver opened it. He ran through the dairy looking for his father, finding him moving cows. He could hardly contain himself but helped his dad finish the chore and then he blurted out his carefully prepared ask to his dad if he could go out for the team?

His dad slowly looked him up and down and first asked, “So who’s going to do your chores?”

My friend responded he would do them after practice and make up time on the weekends after his matches, provided he made the team.

His father looked him up and down again and then said, “What? Are you crazy? You’re so scrawny! Those big fat guys will climb up on those ropes and then jump down on you and crush you like a bug!

“Then, who will do your chores when you’re dead?”

It can come down to our frame of reference.

Farm and ranch families struggle with some of this reference challenge today. Asking someone who has been raised
in the city or suburbia where their food comes from, is likely to elicit the response that food comes from the grocery store. Of course, it’s simple.

As logistical issues create challenges for food producers in the form of skyrocketing diesel costs, lack of fertilizer or seed, as well as wages for a workforce now disconnected from the market by government fiat, city dwellers are quick to assume that those staggering on-farm costs will simply be recouped by the producer by passing it along to the consumer. We know that they are flat-out wrong.

This frame of reference is something farm and ranch families need to shift. Consumers need to be reminded that food doesn’t come from the grocery store, it starts out on the farm. Consumers must be taught that the farmer and rancher are price-takers in the market as opposed to market-makers. Better understanding is a virtue we can help build.

It can come down to our frame of reference

Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers


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