A vegetarian walks into the production agriculture world…

I am a young woman working at an agriculture company. I did not grow up on a farm, nor get an ag degree… I don’t hate Chipotle, don’t own a pair of cowboy boots, and have no previous knowledge on topics such as corn tasseling, nor different monitor brands…To this day when I hear the phrase side dressing, I think of salad dressing that is put on the side rather than a fertilizer treatment used on corn in parts of Indiana and Illinois… I’m a progressive thinking, Chaco wearing, tree hugging, kind of gal. And did I mention I’m a vegetarian. So it is a bit mystifying to be thrown in a world of farm shows, small towners, and talk of green versus red tractors.

So how in the world did I end up working in row crop production agriculture? How did it come to be that I sometimes call over 100 farmers a day and have learned to talk about corn and soybeans, and can rattle off different monitor brands and precision software? How and why you may ask?

Why? Because I want to help change a divided agriculture system. Agriculture, like so many other things in our society is polarized. We have the organic small scale farmers on one side, and the conventional row crop growers on the opposite end. There are few left that rest somewhere in the middle. Typically, today’s millennials involved in the agriculture system are set up firmly on one of the two sides. We learn about agriculture in one of two ways, but rarely both. We either grow up in a rural farming community typically attending a land grant university for an ag degree, or alternatively we went to a liberal arts school, learning about agriculture through passionate lectures, visits to organic farms on the weekend, and reading books about sustainability and food justice. There is no right way but I think they are both at fault for not telling the whole story. Somehow these worlds are never cross pollinated.

I don’t necessarily agree with the way our ag system is currently set up or with specific practices used by many farmers today. But learning what makes farmers tick and the struggles and challenges that these great, down to earth, honest men and women face day in and day out to grow food for this nation and to make a living is what needs to happen if I want to help change the status quo in agriculture.

After spending four years learning about our food and agriculture system through classes on food justice, time spent working on different farms, and a two-year long thesis project speaking with agriculture stakeholders from both camps, I thought I knew about agriculture. I was sorely mistaken! Now that I work for an agriculture company — spending my days talking to conventional row crop growers and working with colleagues that know the agriculture system from a totally different perspective — I am amazed that we can all say that we studied agriculture.

So now I am accepting the challenge of trying to bridge that gap. I am attempting to immerse myself in the system to better understand, acknowledging the challenges that American farmers face every day. Dare me to care enough to learn the other side, listen to new perspectives and be open to changing my mind. I learn something new every day and am grateful for every conversation, colorful exchange with a farmer, and question about how I ended up working in the ag space. Ultimately I do think I can help change the system. I am starting by gaining a better understanding of all perspectives. And putting power back in the farmers’ hands is what is going to make the difference.

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