This is column number 200 and that is a reason to celebrate. To kick off the party, let’s put a twist in some old sayings and look at the importance of our story.
If you farmed today…
You have heard it before — ‘If you ate today, thank a farmer’ — and that pretty much says it all. Farmers provide the food for the world.
But thanks to a young female farmer, I was challenged on this. If we turn that around and say: ‘If you farmed today, thank a consumer,’ there is a completely different connotation.
Although we are the tillers of the earth (and often the bakers of bread), we can also sometimes be stuck in the back 40 in terms of our expectations of the consuming public. Would your grandma be startled at what you eat today and how you prepare it? Would your great-grandpa shake his head in utter disbelief if he were asked to imagine GPS, drones, cellphones, computerized delivery and automatic shovels?
- More with Brenda Schoepp on the Alberta Farmer: Travel exposes you to foods you never imagined existed
Of course they would and just as the field has been transformed, so has the kitchen. Not that I can brag about my kitchen skills, but it is pretty easy to turn out a variety of foods from a multitude of nations in one sitting. And you don’t have to work all day to do it. Just as grandma pretended to be scorned by bought bread (mine secretly was glad not to have to bake it), today’s farmers are sometimes miffed by consumer trends or concerns. Maybe, we should be paying closer attention?
Bring life to ag…
I often said in my presentations that I would bring ag to life, but I have changed my mind of late and decided that what the world needs now is to bring life into ag. In other words, agriculture is our gig and if we want really interesting and challenging partners we may wish to invite folks into our agricultural life. This does not mean telling them how to think, but to create the dialogue that transforms the discussion to a higher plane of thought. And as we are in a constant state of learning, this is one fine way to up the game. The concept of the total embrace of agriculture as a very part of living seems revolutionary, but these are old dreams. In the ’70s, chef Linda Waters said that good farming made for good dining and that whole concept is back in vogue. There are now countless authors weighing in on the discussion of farming and food and that is an invitation for agriculture, for us, to be in that space.
Challenge the science…
I worry when the agricultural industry responds to consumer concerns with the answer, ‘We have science to support our position.’
Well, who in the heck cares? There is science in everything — our life is one big dynamic lab with millions of interactions every day. There is science behind the jeans on your bum and the toothpaste on your brush; in the engine of your car and the cake in the oven.
Let me explain. There is a Country Guide magazine on my desk from 1948 and the ads are for a new scientific formulation for agriculture using from 25 per cent to 50 per cent DDT. In one advertisement, the local rep is spraying a full fog on a group of ladies with the assurance of safety.
It was also safe, the science claimed, to use on cattle, poultry, horses, hogs and dogs. Later, DDT was found to have reproductive consequences on males. The rest of the story played out after the release of Silent Spring in which Rachel Carson questioned the impact of DDT on humans and the environment, as well as overuse (such as on apples in Nova Scotia). DDT was consequently banned for agricultural use in 1973 after long court arguments and an appeal in the U.S. Canada banned DDT in 1972. Challenging science is the measure of an engaged society.
Live your life with colour…
Conformity, in my eyes, is the downfall of any civilization.
An expectation of a conforming public to meet the agenda of a few is absurd. Only curious and committed girls and boys have changed history — be that from the pulpit, the battlefield, the science lab, or the airwaves. We need to listen to the different, the outspoken, and those who challenge the status quo if we are to advance as a society.
A strong society also makes for an interesting trading partner as it is also an economic hub of activity driven by diversity of knowledge, ideas and applications.
Think of it this way: When grandma made a quilt, it was rarely a monotone because she understood the value in colour and texture. One might argue that the quilt was just a project made of scraps. All those scraps represent creativity, ideas, and experiments that resulted in a warm and lasting cover. The patchwork quilt, of African origin, was used to define family name, tribe, status, news, lineage and history. The breaks in pattern were meant to keep evil away and the diamond shape so popular today was reflective of the African circle of life. It was the quilt that provided the codes for escape of American slaves through the underground. (Heaven was the code word for Canada.) There are secrets in colour and simple art that can be life changing. Expression is foundational in creative thought.
Get your story out…
Stories and colour are a necessary part of life and every person you meet plays a part in your history. If we are to bring life to ag, then it is up to us to tell our story with strength, conviction, passion, and the knowledge that comes with our turf. That includes the science and technology behind what we do. This is not an argument of justification but a conveyance of core values and beliefs. Your ordinary will be someone else’s extraordinary.
It is equally important to remember that the folks in your life are vibrant characters who are also counting on you to be in their story, to listen, to come home again, to heal, and to love. Remembering that they care honours them and the role they play — however briefly — in our lives.
Today I humbly thank you as a reader for your time on this page and for being a part of my personal, professional, and agricultural story. It’s a joy to write and to be a flint in the fire of creative thought. You are a blessing to me.