Educating urbanites key to agriculture’s prosperity

Some Chicago-area moms thought that company signs indicating the type of seed grown in various fields was instead a statement of ownership.
 | File photo

For David Miller, the “Aha!” moment came during a meeting with Chicago-area soccer moms and mommy bloggers, the women who discuss and disseminate information — some right, some wrong — about food and its production.

Miller is the research and commodity services director for the Iowa Farm Bureau, and the meeting was designed to address the areas of disconnect between agriculture and urban consumers.

The farm bureau and other agricultural groups always say most farms are family owned and operated, the moms said.

But that can’t be true, because during any drive along highways and byways, all those signs in the fields say the land is owned by DeKalb or Syngenta or (insert name of seed company here.)

Miller said the farm folk around the table were flummoxed.

Then they realized the urban moms thought that company signs indicating the type of seed grown in various fields was instead a statement of ownership.

“It was this total miscommunication with the consuming public, where they thought ‘well, that’s big ag. Corporate agriculture owns all of that’,” recounted Miller.

“Well, no they don’t. It became an “aha!” moment of learning, of teachability, of things that are jargon inside of agriculture. We all know what those signs meant, but outside (of the farm culture) they didn’t know anymore.

“They were far removed from the farms, but they travel on the interstates and they hear the stories about Monsanto or big ag or some of those, and factory farming, and so they made their own assumptions.”

Miller’s story is a sobering example of the divide between urban and rural views, which widens as the general population becomes generationally removed from the farm. His tale came out of the United States, but it could have happened in Canada.

Maybe it has.

It makes one wonder what other areas of miscommunication exist regarding food production.

At first blush, farmers might scoff at the idea of seed company advertising being interpreted as signs of ownership. On reflection, however, it makes perfect sense. Signs on stores in cities tell people who owns what.

Why wouldn’t the same be true on farmland in the country?

Sure, seed companies could make the purpose of those little signs more obvious. But even if they could impart the true message for a driver behind the wheel of a speeding car, that’s not really the point.

The point is, this rural-urban gap has got to be bridged. Farmers have to meet consumers at least halfway, and maybe even further.

“People fill in what they don’t know based upon what little they do know … and often that picture is not what reality is,” says Miller.

At almost every farm meeting — and we attend a lot of them — attendees are encouraged to explain to consumers and the general public why they do the things they do and farm the way they farm.

It’s best to do that while it is still a matter of education rather than survival.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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