In the United States, agriculture is facing an epidemic that has the potential to undo years of progress. No, I am not speaking of factory farms, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms. Rather, this epidemic is an uneducated public that is quick to pass judgment on farming practices that it actually knows very little about.
I saw the perfect example of this while taking a group on a tour of my family’s farm in Clarence Center. Upon entering the chicken house and seeing an abundance of brown eggs, one woman immediately got excited about the “organic” eggs and asked what they were for. I informed her that our brown eggs are not organic. However, many organic egg producers choose to sell brown eggs because the color makes them look more natural than their ivory counterparts. In fact, much of the corn and agricultural product fed to our chickens comes from inorganic, genetically modified crops. However, the misled woman insisted the brown eggs must be more natural than the white eggs in the store, and purchased some.
I grew up on the farm my grandparents purchased almost 50 years ago. We are open to the public, which gives us the perfect opportunity to engage people in lively discussions about agricultural practices. I have always taken for granted the knowledge I learned growing up and in my 12 years of 4-H Club. While many of my classmates were joining Girl Scouts, I was learning how to drive a tractor and balance a diet for my 4-H steer. So when people would ask me how often a goat needs to be milked or why piglets in a huge pen would all lay on top of each other, I would candidly answer their questions. But as I grew up, I realized there are much more controversial topics in agriculture, and lack of basic farming knowledge leads to misinformed opinions. Often, all it takes for a person to see farming in a different light is a little change of perspective.
Most visitors to our farm think that we are organic or antibiotic-free because of our idyllic-looking red barn, white fence and farmhouse. Much to the surprise of the occasional visitor who witnesses us distributing antibiotics to a sick animal, we are not. Parents give their sick children the treatment they need to get well, so why would caring for another living creature be any different?
Technology is not limited to the latest iPhone. Farming is also part of this revolution, with new technology in methods, medicine and seeds giving farmers the opportunity to produce more with less, while decreasing their environmental impact. Instead of the factory farming generation, let’s call this the iFarming generation, where tech-savvy farmers are exploring new methods to do a great job efficiently.
There is strong, although inaccurate, criticism of agricultural practices from some companies and non-profit organizations. If their goal is a well-educated consumer, then what better way to accomplish this than by teaching children about their food in an unbiased, informational way? Rather than waiting until they are simply influenced by two opposing sides focused more on selling products than the health and well-being of the public, children should receive an agricultural education in school. This way, Americans will be able to create well-informed decisions regarding the nation’s largest industry.