Monday, February 20, 2012

I'm All For Milk, But Where's the Beef?

So today is President's Day, no school, and Joe's birthday, and how did we celebrate?

By meeting one of my dearest friends and her son at the Children's Discovery Museum, of course.

Now, I'm all for an outing. I love a good children's museum--I was a TEACHER, for heaven's sake, I know the benefits of "smart fun"--however, the children's museums that I have attended as of late are interesting to me now from neither a teacher's, nor a mother's perspective, but from a farmer's eye.

While the agricultural exhibit at this particular museum is outstanding, my girls were the ones who brought really great observations to the table.

"Why is the giant chess table next to the corn field, Mom? Don't you think that's strange?"

Well, that observation isn't the best one...probably just simply a 6 year old's observation.

Here's a better one:

"Why is there just corn, Mom? Where's the beans?" observed Josie, who is five.


"Why are dem cows black and white? Where's da red ones?" asked Amelia, who is two.

My girls know farming. They live it, go out to do chores with Dad, and hear about it all the time. Their observations are pure, untainted by television or a book or something in a magazine. My kids are the most pure agriculture advocates out there. However, they are also pretty biased, and although we live on a farm, we are a grain farm, growing corn, soybeans and hay, as well as a beef operation. We are, even more specifically, a cow/calf operation, which is a piece of the cattle puzzle, as there are many other ways to raise cattle. So while my kids understand farming at their level and see what's out their front door, we are still not experts on hogs or strawberries or sheep. My girls wanted to see a farm display today that looked like their farm, what they knew, but it's not the same as what other kids see, thanks to TV and books. While my girls are most familiar with green tractors and red cows, most depictions of cattle in the mainstream are always black and white cows, with big udders and a stupid bell around their necks. Why is that? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for milk, but where's the beef?

My beef with the lack of beef examples is not that I think that every aspect of farming should be represented, all the time. My girls need to know about dairy cattle just as much as the next kid. While this children's museum has one of the best agriculture displays around, my beef with it today was that is that all the moms (and a few dads) who brought their kids there were just getting a taste of agriculture, seeing the high points: combines, dairy cows and grain bins. Those are awesome, but we as farmers and advocates have to get out there and make agriculture kid friendly and fun and do it well, and while places like this are a good place to start, they are just a start. Until farmers like us open our doors and ask kids and parents to come and see calves and corn and beans and semis and dirt and manure and electric fences (and learn not to touch them!!) and gravel roads, these kiddos will only know about 15% of the story.

This museum depicts agriculture in an awesome, interactive, correct way, in a very small space  (located next to the large chess set, FYI), but it too is just a small window into the agricultural world. While I understand not all aspects of farming can be represented, it made me realize how hard this job of getting our story out correctly is and will always be. We have a lot of work to do, and even an excellent museum display such as the one we enjoyed today can only give city folks bits and pieces of the story. Kids will only continue to think that only dairy cows are the only cows out there if we beef people don't get our animals out there to be seen. We have to not just be telling our story, but opening our doors as well.

So...I guess besides being a mom, a wife, a writer, a teacher, a runner, an advocate...I need to be a tour guide, too.

I can hear Joe sighing now.

1 comment:

  1. really enjoyed this. Farming is so diverse -- and that's a tall order for educators. I grew up on a dairy farm, and every year the 2nd and 3rd grade teachers brought their kids to our farm for a "show and tell". I remember feeling both proud (the baby calves a hit) and embarrassed (it stinks). For sure, if it was a child's only personal experience with farming, it was lacking, though not as sad as today with no working farms nearby. Thanks for this great post.