Learning from the country cousin

Hoard's Dairyman: 

Learning from the country cousin

Date: 
Tue, 12/21/2010

The holidays are usually spent with family and friends,sharing stories and reminiscing about recent activities. If you have a small holiday gathering with just those you work with, you will likely learn very little on how others think and behave.

However, if your gathering brings people of various backgrounds together once a year, much can be learned. What do your nonagricultural relatives or friends think about today’s topics such as food safety, pricing of food, and the modern technology used on farms? What they believe may be right or wrong, but it is what they believe, and, therefore, that is their perspective. As those who market to consumers, we need to accept that their perspective is their reality. But, we can share information with them that may alter their perception.

In the U.S., consumers spend about 10 percent of their disposable income on food. In some countries, those numbers double and triple. Imagine spending as much on food as you do for rent or mortgage on a typical home. We are indeed fortunate, and the food supply in the U.S. is extremely safe due to all the stringent regulations protecting producers and consumers. Those who believe “big farms” are not “family farms,” should really look at the statistics.

According to the 1997 Census of Agriculture, the vast majority of farms in this country (90 percent) are owned and operated by individuals or families. The next largest category of ownership is partnerships (6 percent). The “corporate” farms account for only 3 percent of U.S. farms, and 90 percent of those are family owned. However, the term “family farm” does not necessarily equate with “small farm”; nor does a “corporate farm” necessarily mean a large-scale operation owned and operated by a multi-national corporation. Many of the country’s largest agricultural enterprises are family owned. Likewise, many farm families have formed modest-sized corporations to take advantage of legal and accounting benefits. (For the purposes of the U.S. Census, a farm is any establishment which produced and sold, or normally would have produced and sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the year.)

There are over 285,000,000 people living in the United States. Of that population, less than 1 percent claim farming as an occupation (and about 2 percent actually live on farms). There are only about 960,000 persons claiming farming as their principal occupation and a similar number of farmers claiming some other principal occupation. (source: EPA’s website: http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/demographics.html

You can get additional support material from the Midwest Dairy Association. This website has fact sheets available about how farmers care for their animals, the environment and how they produce wholesome, high-quality milk. Additional information sheets include topics related to dairy farms and sustainability; hormones, antibiotics and milk wholesomeness; and the variety and characteristics of milk choices. http://www.midwestdairy.com/0t37p52/get-the-facts/

So, while you may (or may not) be all that interested in cousin Ernie’s city lifestyle, it could provide you with some insight and opportunity to learn about another’s perspective and a chance to educate him, as well. If you are interested in learning from him, he might be willing to listen to you, too! Won’t cousin Ernie be the center of attention at the coffee shop when he starts talking about his holiday on the farm and what he learned from his country cousin!