Compiling a list of people whose actions summarize a year in the farm/food conversation is not an easy task. To be truly comprehensive, this list should include all the folks found on Santa’s Naughty List compiled by The Farmer’s Daughter USA.
But ’tis the season for good will and good thoughts, so this year I’ve attempted to create a “nice” list filled with the people who made us smile, think and cheer. Presenting the 10 Most Fascinating People in Farms & Food: 2015. Who would you add?
10. Chris Soules (a.k.a Prince Farming) When agriculture learned a farmer was named as ABC’s The Bachelor, social media channels went code red . . . or green, depending on a farmer’s color (read tractor) preference. We tuned in to see bikini-clad bachelorettes attempting to drive tractors down an LA street . . . because that’s what happens on farms. Oy. What did emerge from Prince Farming’s reality TV stint was discussion about the most important person on the farm – the daughter-in-law. AND what qualifies a woman to be a farmer.
Mr. Soules has since used his celebrity to add to the farm/food conversation on a national stage. His love of his farm is evident. Although I have not met him, the farmers who have say good things.
9. Andrew Campbell, creator #farm365 On January 1, 2015, Canadian farmer Andrew Campbell pledged to capture a year on his farm in photos, sharing one a day for 365 days. The hashtag #farm365 was born and farmers from around the world joined in. Its success drew the attention of animal rights activists who hijacked the hashtag to share disturbing allegations and photo-shopped images depicting animal cruelty. Farmers and ranchers weathered the storm and eventually reclaimed the movement. Follow Mr. Campbell on twitter at @FreshAirFarmer to learn the real story of farming 24/7/365.
8. Kent Blunier, Farm Hats and Erik Wilson & Steve Malanca, My Job Depends on Ag Of the many hats a farmer wears, public relations specialist ranks pretty close to number one. Recognizing this fact, these gentleman harnessed social media’s reach to the masses and created pages highlighting the many hats and jobs farmers and ranchers have.
Farm Hats followers see farmers and ranchers doing typical farm things like driving tractors, feeding hogs and combining corn. But they also see farm and ranch families ringing bells for the Salvation Army, meeting with legislators to discuss ag policy, undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor and mourning the loss of family. People are people are people. The commonalities we share are far greater than our differences.
My Job Depends on Ag began as a way to mobilize California agriculture and showcase the impact the community has on the state’s economy. Now closing in on 50,000 members, the group’s facebook page illustrates how far agriculture can reach. From truck drivers to waitresses, teachers to photographers, food packagers to consumers, posts showcasing agriculture from across the country prove the undeniable fact that we all depend on ag. To bolster their efforts offline, the group also sells My Job Depends on Ag stickers, t-shirts and other merchandise. Check out their store at myjobdependsonag.com.
7. SciBabe, Yvette d’Entremont In early April, this article hit newsfeeds: The Food Babe Blogger is Full of $#@!. It is a succinct, somewhat sarcastic, science laden takedown of The Food Babe. As a recap, the Food Babe became mainstream media’s darling when she chewed on a yoga mat and forced Subway to remove a preservative from their bread recipe. She went on to attack Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. Yvette, the SciBabe could take it no more. Her posts regarding food, vaccines and general every day stuff are ripe with sarcasm, real science and a whole lot of common sense. She’s on this list because farm/food discussions have become science discussions and science is her thing.
6. Ask the Farmers Brought to life by farmers and bloggers Krista Stauffer and Sarah Schultz, the Ask the Farmers website and social media outlets provide first hand information about farming, ranching, food and every hot topic in between. The effort is grassroots advocacy at its finest. More than 75 US and Canadian farmers and ranchers volunteer to write share and engage on all social media platforms. This is just one more opportunity for curious people to find, ask and get to know a farmer!
5. Dr. Kevin Folta, chairperson and professor in horticultural sciences at the University of Florida When comment threads begin to reek of pseudoscience and woo, I often wonder where the scientists are. Farmers can contribute to conversations, but sometimes we need the scientific explanation behind the pesticide or GMO or antibiotic to solidly make a point. Dr. Kevin Folta was the scientist who showed up. His passion for science, the process and integrity of it was palpable. And popular enough to make the anti-anything groups squirm.
So, the organization US Right to Know (in other words label fanatics) filed legal action. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the group sought emails from several scientists working at public universities. They were searching for any link between these professors and agriculture businesses. Millions of wasted dollars and hours later, the USRTK achieved their ultimate goal – silencing science. After enduring months of online bullying, threats to his family, defamation of his character, colleagues and work, Dr. Folta signed off on November 4. It was a sad day for all of us who try to shed light on food fear with food facts.
4. Janice Person, online engagement director, Monsanto When I entered the ‘ag’vocating world three years ago my naivety must have been evident. I jumped right into Hawaii’s GMO battle with these posts and promptly received several nasty comments and 24-hours of bulling via twitter. Devastated and unprepared for the attacks, I told My Farmer being a ‘voice for ag’ wasn’t worth the drama. That evening, a woman known as JPLovesCotton reached out online and assured me that this to shall pass. “Please don’t stop sharing your farm story.”
JPLovesCotton is Janice Person, who writes at A Colorful Adventure, a blog about everything including her passion for travel, people and cotton.
The fact that she works for Monsanto doesn’t seem to affect her efforts as the online engagement director. She links farmers and ranchers with the people who have the questions, facilitates in-person meetings and online relationships. She finds value in almost every interaction and her ability to embrace what life offers is catching.
I know I’ve come far since my first days of blogging and speaking up for agriculture. My growth in part can be attributed to Janice, her support and belief that together we do everything better.
3. Poultry Farmers As the avian flu swept across the U.S. this spring, I turned to the communications program director at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, Lara Ginsburg Durban. Her work in the number one turkey producing state put her in the middle of the horror unfolding on poultry farms. She wrote about the emotional toll of the bird flu on her blog My Other More Exciting Self (read The Worry and Work on Avian Influenza). Iowa turkey farmer Katie Anderson Olthoff (On the Banks of Squaw Creek) also shared about the day the flu was discovered at a farm just seven miles down the road (7 Miles from a Bird Flu Nightmare).
With the loss of birds, essentially, the loss of a business, farm families precariously balanced their love of farm with providing for their families. Thankfully, farmers are persistent. U.S. poultry farmers recovered, restocked, rebuilt and are growing again. Because of their quick responses to contain avian influenza, attention to food safety and animal care, Thanksgiving came and went without panic, regardless of what the media implied. As Lara wrote “There’s no turkey shortage for thanksgiving. Seriously!” Enjoy one for Christmas too!
2. Marji Guyler-Alaniz, founder and president, FarmHer Although women have always been a part of the day to day on farms and ranches, rarely were they seen as the decision makers or primary owner/operators. However, times have changed and women are dominating the agriculture community with involvement on farms and ranches, in leadership roles with agriculture organizations and of course, online where they lead the efforts to connect farms and food.
In 2013, Marji Guyler-Alaniz elevated these efforts even more through her FarmHer and RancHer project. Through stunning images, she captured the reality of a woman’s role on the farm and today shares her message of empowerment with audiences around the world.
1. My Mom and Mother-in-Law, the original FarmHers Before declaring oneself a farmHer was cool, women were working on farms and ranches alongside their fathers, husbands and brothers. They demanded no public recognition for their day to day attempts to manage home, farm, kids, animals and farmer. They drove the tractors, watched the gates, made dinner, did laundry, worked in town, out of town and saw sunrises and sunsets every day.
I’m as independent and proud as the next woman establishing herself in the agriculture community. I agree that we should declare our presence as women in ag and be seen as equals. However, my inspiration is not the recognition. It is the quiet resilience expressed by some of the original farmHers like my mother and mother-in-law. When I grow up, I want to be like them. Doing the work that needs to be done, serving the people (my family) who need to be served and understanding that strength need not displayed in a loud fashion. Their quiet support and unwavering faith in their farms, families and farmers are present during the most challenging of days. During planting and harvest when the work never ends, it is delivered on a plate of warm nourishing food. It is felt in the soothing caress of a smooth yet weathered hand.
In March as I prepared to attend Women Changing the Face of Agriculture, a conference hosted by the Illinois AgriWomen, my farm princess plopped on the bed. “Where are you going?”
“A conference called Women Changing the Face of Agriculture.”
Her response, “Haven’t we already done that?”
Thank you Mom and Susan. Thank you fellow farmHers. Whatever your role in agriculture, your tenacity is creating a world in which my farm princess knows no limits. Agriculture is her playground and the future will be fascinating!