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.

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.

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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