Real pig farming has changed so much in the 10 short years I have been involved with it. I can’t even imagine how much it has changed in my entire lifetime. I understand being an "outsider" for so long that when you are out looking in, the technologies and efficiencies farmers have developed can seem scary. And the huge push now for consumers to discover where their food comes from and how it is raised has sprouted so many poorly told stories and myths. It is this tactic that drives consumers" fear of the farmer even deeper.
But here is what I find to be constant and true: Peel back all of those popular media layers of hatred, deception, and theories pulled seemingly out of thin air and you will find the heart of the farmer. The ever-beating strong and willing heart of the farmer is amazing. Tough, true, and determined, a farmer’s heart is always with someone else in mind and hardly ever upon themselves. It is centered upon family and raising their children to someday perhaps return back home to the farm, a goal rarely portrayed anywhere else in the world.
We open every farm tour with a picture presentation about the history of the farm. No matter the audience, it always opens with a portrait of the entire family, including the eight growing grandkids.
"This is why I get out of bed every morning," my father-in-law states as we show the picture above. "We do this every day so that they can someday share our love for the land, animals and the purpose of farming."
We as farmers would never do anything that would jeopardize the safety of our food because we are the first ones to consume it. Do you think we raise this many pigs and never enjoy a glorious pork burger or side of sizzling bacon at breakfast? We believe in what we do and stand by our every decision. Everything we grow – whether it is crops or livestock – is raised with everyone else’s family in mind, not just our own. We believe it takes every single different way of farming to raise food for the world. If every famer is allowed to grow food in the style that they do best, we can then contribute to the wide variety of choices offered and meet the needs of every consumer.
Is it our right as farmers to grow food in a poisonous, abusive, and inhumane manner? Not a chance. And if that is what we felt we did, then we surely wouldn’t be out promoting it on the grand scale that we have grown to today. We have one of the most highly watched and regulated jobs in the country; it would be impossible to perform some of the deadly feats that some claim we do with the food supply. If something is not good for the consumer it will certainly not be good for the future of our farm, or our families. It makes my heart sink a little bit when I see how deceitful we are portrayed in the eyes of some. How do we as farmers climb out and above this vicious circle of distrust and disconnect?
In the face of social media, farmers are beginning to realize that their goal of "feeding the world" may not be a good enough explanation for the new and advanced practices that we use. People want to know every in and out of what we do and we should embrace that rather than combat it. Consumers are concerned about what choices they need to make when deciding what to put on their own dinner table at night. Their question is not what farmers can do to feed all of the other families of the world. That responsibility lies in our hands only and we need to reach into every corner of our passion and share it. To some it might not seem fair that we need to share such personal things in order for people to gain trust. But transparency is the key to the survival of our farms, and the children who want to come home to it. People need to regain the connection with us that we are humans, with families, and that we have a love for the land and animals under our care. Do not let bad apples personify who we are as a whole.
So the heartbeat of the famer now is forced to shift just a little bit. At the center will always be his own family and how to grow his farm into something the children would be proud to come back home to. But now he must think of the hearts of so many others as well. How do they perceive what we do every day? Can it seem scary to someone who is generations removed from the family farm? Snapshots of our daily life can be so easily spread throughout the world with the click of a "share" button.
Make those clicks count. Make your drive and passion for farming something that you are proud to share with everybody. After all, we as farmers are not only sharing our love for farming with future generations, but also with everybody on the planet who consumes food. That is something to be proud of, and it’s worth every beat of your heart.
My husband Tim helps his dad on the farm
Our oldest son, TJ watches his dad in the tractor