Urbanites are starting to view farmers in a new light

It’s been a long time since anybody has mentioned “dumb farmers” to me.

Come to think of it, it’s been a long time since I’ve run into anybody I could imagine being described as a “dumb farmer.”

I’m sure there are a few out there. Dumbness is part of the human condition and there are dummies in every line of work. There are even dumb reporters.

But I don’t run into anybody in agriculture who seems dumb these days, at least in the places I go, and that should be no surprise.

Farming is too demanding, too risky, too multi-faceted to allow a true dummy to survive. At one time, millions of people farmed Western Canada, but now most farming is done by a few thousand families who have survived the brutal hammer strokes of agricultural economics.

The unfortunate, the fed-up, the frustrated, the feckless and the fools have been forced out.

But while the disappearance of dumb farmers happened a long time ago, what startled me recently was realizing that it’s been a long, long time since anyone has uttered the phrase “dumb farmer” to me. I used to hear it quite a lot.

I’m an urbanite, and I move in urban circles. I hang out at Starbucks and at my kids’ elementary school playground. I attend an urban church. Most of my friends are urban professionals. I attended three universities loaded with urban people like me, and was born and raised in central Regina.

These are the kinds of people and places that used to be the comfortable home of the phrase “dumb farmer.” I heard it all the time when I was growing up in Regina in the 1970s and 1980s.

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I remember often hearing it in the 1990s in Saskatoon, in jokes and in complaints about political issues associated with farmers, such as the opposition to gun control.

But I honestly can’t recall hearing the phrase in the 2000s and this decade.

There are still lots of people who associate farmers with things they don’t like — genetically modified organisms, pesticides, water pollution, country music — but the accusation of dumbness isn’t connected to their complaints. (I don’t know what online trolls say because I ignore trolls.)

However, there’s another farmer stereotype that’s alive and well, and I think it’s a good one, since it’s mostly true. It’s the image of the humble, down-to-earth, caring farmer.

It’s an image that’s not nearly as defined as the “dumb farmer” stereotype, but it seems pretty widespread in the urban world.

In my own circles I hear lots of people talking about the humble, wholesome, caring farmers they have met, who they are related to, who they have seen online in social media, who they have met at farmers markets, and who they have heard from at meetings and conferences.

Restaurants (good ones) celebrate the farmers they source ingredients from, and events like Open Farm Day are becoming a big thing.

Instead of looking at farmers with derision and sneering, many of the same sort of urbanites who would have talked about “dumb farmers” 30 years ago seem today to be trying to bond with farmers.

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Farmers are helping develop this better perception by being accessible and by being humble.

Many now make themselves available online, at schools, to the media and at conferences. These days there’s seldom an urban foodie, sustainability, environmental or innovation conference that doesn’t contain at least one farmer talking about what he or she does.

For many farmers, it’s an awkward and uncomfortable position to be in — many of them do not see themselves as noteworthy. And this reluctance to draw attention to themselves provides an authenticity that many urbanites crave from farmers.

I know many intelligent, competent farmers who end up in that spotlight and I know they feel awkward about it because they have told me so. They like going to interesting conferences and meeting interesting people, but they don’t want to be one of those interesting people themselves.

All the other speakers at the conference might want to seem like the smartest, most confident person in the room, but most farmers seem to want to appear as just regular, unremarkable people.

That sets them out and makes them memorable. It’s what’s stamping that image of the humble, caring, diligent farmer into the minds of many urbanites and stamping out the old smear of the “dumb farmer.”

It’d be hard to find a dummy in farming today, and it’s nice that people in the cities no longer to seem to think there are any.

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  • ed

    They are able to speak, but that has made it even worse. They wreak their land, will not work collectively for the greater good, can’t wait for their neighbours auction sale, or will kick him when he is down to hopefully have him decide it is time to have one. They will raise their hand at that auction beyond any reasonable or logical $$ value and will send the RCMP after you if a calf gets out into their beans. No they are not the dumbest group around, but you may have to look far and wide to find that small subset group of people. When you “Do” find them, they won’t be bragging about their 84′ airseeded or their vacation to Arazona.

    • M.Mac

      Ed, you’ve clearly had some experiences dealing with other people that has left a bad taste in your mouth. But as someone who has spent decades in the industry in numerous provinces and countries around the world, my experiences have shown me that your experiences are NOT indicative of the majority of farmers. There are bad people in every line of work, sorry you have had to encounter them.

      • Harold

        You’re “sorry”; from what advantage? What Ed has aptly pointed out is that things are not as rosy as Ed White and perhaps you believe how things are. There is only good behavior and bad behavior and those who represent each. Do you have an advantage over each because you visit and travel the globe? One does not place “but” after the word “sorry” unless they intend to dismiss. Your dismissal does not change any event and only leaves one as they were before. We have become masterful in feigning our feelings.
        Ed White does not see a collective of good human beings at work; he only sees a division between farmer’s and the urban settings even though he himself speaks from the urban setting.
        The Article is centered on the word dumb, but those who are dumb are so by a physical disability, or they lack in knowledge, and therefore they cannot speak. With all of us living in this information era, it still seems a mystery to Mr. White as to where the term “dumb farmer” has gone. Perhaps a little history could provide the reason why farmers were called dumb in the first place and why its time has now expired. It was not because any farmer lacked in personal intelligence, logic, and objectivity, it was because of an immigrant language barrier preventing the trading of information; both sides were considered dumb by each other. The word “dumb” was/is in the possession of the majority. The ability to communicate has always been everyone’s most powerful resource. Anyone incredibly full of knowledge is in the state of dumb, when one cannot speak another’s language. The word dumb has not disappeared and remains valid to the event.

        • ed

          Right on!

      • ed

        You could be???.. an enabler that courts farmers to do the things they do in the name of business with free hats and jackets. Leather jackets for the chosen ones for sure. I am not surprised by your comments as you would not be alone out there if that were true. There are thousands of those types. They are a dime a dozen. Swallowing principles helps these people see only what is advantages to people in those types of positions, helps them to be able to look themselves in the mirror and sleep at night. Hopefully that is not you!