Along with Christmas trees, holy nights and candy canes, top 10 lists are making the rounds. Even though last year was supposed to be Barbara Walters’ last 10 Most Fascinating People, she’s got a new list coming in a week. So, I thought I’d put together another list as well. Here are my thoughts on the 10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food, 2014. Keep in mind fascinating means interesting and or charming. Who would you add?
10) Buck Marshall
Chipotle barely let 2014 begin before launching the first missile of the food wars in the form of Farmed & Dangerous, “a Chipotle original comedy series that explores the outrageously twisted and utterly unsustainable world of industrial agriculture.” The character line-up included Buck Marshall, the head of a fictional agriculture organization representing industrial farming, factory farmers and Big Ag. Oy! Laden with labels, Farmed & Dangerous, according to Chipotle, supported their effort to find “food with integrity.” Integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Chipotle’s burritos are being served with a side of something and integrity is not it.
9) Derek Klingenberg, farmer
This Kansas farmer has spent hours perfecting his parody talents churning out hits like “Do You Want To Drive My Tractor?”, “Ranching Awesome”, and “What Does the Farmer Say”. My personal favorite, “#WeAreFarming” showcases the amazing diversity of farmers from around the world. However, his simple serenade to bring in his cows fascinated the world and got people talking about farmers and what they do. My dad calls his cows with a low tonal, “come bawwwsssss.” And they come, but only for him. It’s something farmers do.
8) Robb Fraley, Monsanto
My Farmer and I met Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto, two winters ago in Hawaii. During that brief conversation, I sensed I’d met a man who didn’t have time for the drama plaguing discussions about agriculture. 2014 found the World Food Prize Laureate stepping forward to challenge that drama. I find it refreshing that an agribusiness leader is joining the ranks of farmers and ranchers who have been focused on telling agriculture’s story. The farm story is a book with many chapters. Farmers have one, but agribusiness has more and that voice needs to be heard.
Most recently, Mr. Fraley joined panelists at Intelligence Squared to debate GMOs. It is worth the watch.
7) Dr. Oz
When creating a list about farms and food certain names might illicit a shudder, but the conversations created in their wake are fascinating. In the Kingdom of Dr. Oz, truth comes with several caveats. Weekly he calls out the horrors of another food group, preaches the next weight loss miracle and misrepresents the American agriculture community. There is no charm here, but an amazing amount of interest that a doctor can blatantly lie on television and not be held accountable. Congress tried, but what resulted was a slight hiccup in the Dr.’s march to dominate food based conversations. Note: He has yet to invite a farmer to the table.
6) The Food Babe
Another shudder. I have to hand it to Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe). She chewed on a yoga mat (why???) and never looked back. She re-fus-es to engage in dialogue with individuals who take issue with her brand of pseudo-science. Instead, she plays the victim when mainstream media decides that the personality they created is taking things too far. It would be so easy for agriculture to dismiss the outrageous claims leveled by The Food Babe. But we’ve done that before and now we’re playing catch up. I’d like to believe the woman who is Vani Hari is well intentioned, curious about food and interested in learning. Unfortunately, her alter-ego isn’t much for any of those things except for, well, ego.
5) Norman Borlaug
In March, the agriculture community celebrated Norman Borlaug’s 100th birthday by revisiting the “Green Revolution” and exploring the future of farming, world hunger and food security. Mr. Borlaug’s work is well-known, well-criticized and well-celebrated. But his mission cannot be refuted: “I personally cannot live comfortably in the midst of abject hunger and poverty and human misery, if I have the possibilities of–even in a modest way, with the help of my many scientific colleagues–of doing something about improving the lives of these many young children.” – Norman Borlaug
4) California Farmers and Ranchers
In 2012, the Midwest experienced a drought. We prayed heartily watching the clouds with fierce intensity, daring Mother Nature to storm on our parched fields. And finally, it rained. That was one growing season.
Farmers and ranchers from Texas to California have been dealing with drought for much longer. This year I couldn’t look away as California farmers fallowed land, ranchers sold their herds and everyone watched as rivers, lakes and streams just disappeared. On top of losing generations worth of work, farmers and ranchers were again defending their livelihood as the conspiracy theorists leveled claims that this drought was the government’s doing or Big Ag’s creation. The Faces of the California Drought shares the heartbreaking stories of farmers, ranchers, students, families and communities. Orchards uprooted, food lines wrapped around the block, no grass found in a playground, and yet in each story there is strength; belief that relief will come one drop at a time.
3) Mr. Petitt, my agriculture teacher
Mr. Petitt represents the old-school high school ag teacher and FFA advis0r, spending every hour in his class with his students teaching lessons not found in books. He was my teacher and one reason why I can’t stop talking about agriculture today. Although farms and food are in the spotlight, agriculture education is disappearing from our schools, not necessarily because of lack of funding or interest but because we can’t find the teachers. #TeachAg is the national campaign designed to showcase the value of a career teaching students the facts of farms and food in order to refute the fiction. Ag teachers are a dedicated bunch. I was lucky enough to learn from one of the greats. Thank you, Mr. Petitt.
2) Farmers who share their stories
Sharing the why and what of farming isn’t too difficult. Farmers & ranchers are doing so in droves, adding blogs, Instagram feeds and twitter handles to the social media universe. They share about tractors, seeds, cows and pigs. They talk about soil, business partners, pesticides, growing seasons and investments. In general, farmers and ranchers have peeled back the veil and opened the gates to every inquisitive mind.
But farmers are more than their fields and livestock. They have lives peppered with challenges that link them to their “city cousins” more than anyone may know. This year, several ag bloggers shared deeply personal stories about themselves and their families. They opened their hearts and reminded us all that in spite of our labels we share so much. Here are a few that caught my attention.
- Kelly at Country Nights, City Lights tackled bi-polar depression in the wake of Robin William’s death. In Your Darkest Hour touches on her own struggles and shares resources for those who need them.
- Debbie at Of Kids, Cows & Grass put a rural face to organ donation when her son needed a liver transplant.
- Nicole at Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom deciphers the medical speak regarding dyslexia and ADHD. She has shared an amazing amount of resources and hope for other families asking the same questions.
- Katie at The Pinke Post, has shared often her personal parenting story and did so again this fall as it related to a ballot measure in North Dakota. It takes courage to put the most challenging of days out for public consumption and then deal with the backlash.
1) My Dad
Whether baling hay, feeding pigs, working calves or crawling across a field in a tractor, time spent with Dad was golden. He worked hard from sun up past sun down to give our family the life we enjoyed. He served the school and community on a number of boards. He split time as a fair volunteer and 4-H parent. One 4-H show day, a passing steer struck with its hind leg, its hoof connecting with my thigh. I remember thinking don’t cry; don’t let the boys see you cry. But it hurt, and Dad suddenly appeared to help hide my tears. He is the man who cultivated my deep love for agriculture, showed me how to do right without saying a word, and taught me that a person is only as good as his/her work. He continues to pass the farming legacy to my brother and the six grand-kids who call him Papa. My dad is a farmer, and farmers are fascinating.