Several years ago I became aware of the public conversation about how food is grown and cared for. The conversation I was reading about was not an accurate portrayal of our farm or of many other farms and ranches I know of. At the same time a grassroots movement of farm women, CommonGround, was forming to have farmer to consumer conversations. My opportunity to share our farm story through CommonGround expanded further into the creation of my blog “Dust In My Coffee”.
Walking in the shoes, or boots, of a farmer has opened my eyes and understanding of how we work with nature to grow food year after year. Growing up around corn fields enabled me to see farming from the outside looking in. Marrying a farmer gave me hands on learning to understand the day to day routine of caring for the land and animals.
Our early years of farm life were not as romantic as I pictured farming to be. The hard work was not a problem as our parents had modeled that very well. I was, however, used to getting a pay check and having time off. Signing notes at the bank for money with the hope your crops and cattle would make money made me a bit uneasy. Having to miss taking the kids to a circus because hay had to be put up was another wake up call to the timing of every activity on the farm. In addition to those early shifts in my farm life paradigm, the farm crisis of the 1980’s was hitting farms very hard.
There were many fine people who left agriculture during that crisis to do something else. I will never forget the list of farm sales, meetings, crisis hotline commercials and Willy Nelson concerts for farm aid. We survived and kept working hard to care for our family and improve our farm. You could say we figuratively plowed our way through it. Our oldest children learned the value of a quarter at garage sales and went without the Happy Meal toys. They also learned the value of hard work, perseverance and faith.
The message we were receiving in the 80’s was to treat the farm like a business, increase production at the lowest cost possible and keep food prices low for consumers. Farmers are very good at figuring things out especially with the support of our land grant colleges. Research and development continued full speed ahead in agriculture. Machinery improved. Seed development improved. Soil conservation became a management priority. Cattle health and nutrition improved as cattle utilized more sources of feed to convert to protein. I witnessed first hand the explosion of technological advancements that enable farmers to continue to do a better job of caring for the land, water and animals while keeping production high so people around the world can benefit.
As those developments occurred the conversation about production agriculture changed seemingly overnight. As farms sizes grew and people grew away from direct experiences on the farm a change in the discussion was inevitable. Farmers Markets began to pop up in more places with an increased emphasis on organic production and locally grown products. Add a movie, books, social media and some people using fear to sell a message and you add to the confusion. Consumers are wondering what food is good for you, what farming methods are good and what should a mom buying food for her family do when confronted with such a variety of choices.
The confusion about food production, the chance to share facts not fear and my desire to share our story led to the development of this blog. The title “Dust In My Coffee” came about as I sat pondered dust particles landing in my cup of coffee. Every question about food production, no matter how small, matters to me. It is my intent to share my experiences, past, present and future to be a positive, credible, real and inclusive voice in the story of how food is raised. I am very grateful to join the many other voices striving to connect our farms to consumers.
(Joan Ruskamp shares her stories with readers at http://dustinmycoffee.blogspot.com)