Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sorry Ulysses, Yours is Not a Farm

I guess I should add in "anymore" to my title.

We have enjoyed a few days away, as mentioned in a previous post. St. Louis was our destination, because we needed a place potentially hotter than home! Not really, we love St. Louis for its Cardinal baseball, so many great (and free) things for the kids to enjoy, and its shopping! We tried a few new attractions this time, one being Grant's Farm, the once farmstead of President Ulysses S. Grant and now home of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

However, as we began our ride on the tram through the grounds, Anna's childlike innocence and its ability to pop into her head and out of her mouth got me thinking. She announced as we rode through the 80 sprawling acres with animals from nearly all continents, "This isn't a farm! Where are the crops?"

Anna's picture of a farm is her house, complete with out-buildings, our family dog, cattle in the pasture across the road, all being bordered on four sides by corn and soybean fields. However, to the city folks on the train, who were snickering at her "country" comment, this is a farm: animals (without caring whether they are producing anything for the farmer) and open space.

That made me feel strange. Sad, in a way, but not because these poor city people had no experience with the farming lifestyle (they are close to a Crate and Barrel and a Nordstrom, I can't feel too sorry for them!), but that the perceived farm in the greater, urban society is not a true picture. Just like in advertising, Americans today only experience what is placed, and also marketed, right in front of them. Offering a snow cone and a promise of seeing long horned cattle, a camel and an elephant is as farm-y as these people have ever gotten.

This is no one's fault but us in agriculture. We don't have any signage on our road promoting farm tours, offering tractor rides in the fall. We offer farm tours to those who purchase our beef, so that our buyers may see how we raise our cattle. As of today, we haven't had any takers. Why is that? Should I be offering snow cones and the opportunity to pet a calf while they are around? Are we not cutesy enough?

Like Grant's Farm, there are many kid friendly, sweet little farm parks around here, where kids can pet goats, feed chicks, and crawl around on an antique tractor. But again, they are not painting a realistic picture of production agriculture. These parks are more like the Disney World of the farming industry, catering to visitors as tourist traps, rather than educating them in all things agricultural.

So where do I go from here? I kept my trap shut when Anna proclaimed that the farm she was visiting was a sham. Why didn't I educate the public by loudly proclaiming that she was correct and all visitors on the tram were invited to our home to see a real farm? Why don't we open our doors to all those curious about production agriculture, instead of feeling a little defensive when the topic of conversation turns to organics at a girls' night dinner? Why is it hard to get our message out?

I guess I should start with a sign and snow cones, and hope that some day, Anna will be guiding tours of our farm and will explain why ours is a real farm.

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