Farmers, find ways to tell the food story

A successful farmer said it best about his obligation to provide the public with an understanding of his profession.

?It?s my story and I gotta? tell it,? he said. ?No one knows more about what I do on my farm than me.?

This western Kansas producer believes if the people who buy his products have a better appreciation of the food he grows, his business future will remain bright while he continues to provide the high-quality, low-cost food we Americans enjoy.

How do farmers help consumers understand their profession and where their food comes from?

It begins with the commitment to tell your side of the story whenever and wherever you can. Whether farmers talk to grade-schoolers, members of service clubs or state legislators, they should practice the art of relationship building between rural and urban, between agricultural producers and consumers of agricultural products.

Today, most consumers are at least two, three or four generations removed from the farm. But just about everyone has a lawn, garden, flowers, plants or shrubbery. These same consumers enjoy, and still cherish, their ties to a father, grandfather or great-grandfather who tilled the soil.

It?s easy to find a common denominator with your urban cousins. You can begin by noting that the fertilizer used to grow gardens or lawn is no different from what you use?as a farmer?to put on your wheat, corn or milo.

The rose dust, herbicide or insecticide used to control scab, dandelions or mosquitoes is similar to the plant protection chemicals you use to prevent damage and disease on your crops.

Sometimes the common ground revolves around nutrition. A good analogy could be the parallel between a person?s need for healthy food and a cow?s need for a well-balanced diet.

Other subjects you might want to discuss include food safety, animal care, access, availability and conservation of water, groundwater contamination and even health-care affordability.

Take the groundwater contamination issue for example. Begin by telling them your shared concerns about chemical run-off into lakes and streams. As a farmer, you cannot afford to overuse expensive products.

You can also explain to them that minimum and no-till farming practices help keep the herbicides and insecticides in the field where they control weeds and pests.

Let them know that you, more than anyone else, are concerned about the land where you and your family live and work.

Public understanding of how today?s farmer runs his or her operation is only half the challenge. Perhaps equally important is the need to be sensitive to the concerns of the community where you live.

Remember, most people who call for regulations and new laws live in towns and cities, not on farms. It is the public who will suffer if these laws have a negative effect on this nation?s food producers and our food system.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.

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