As you know, this past year, in March, I bought my first
home of my own in the Illinois Valley. It’s been — interesting — being a new
homeowner, and I’ve learned a lot of things in the months that I’ve owned my
One of the things I’ve learned is sometimes it’s best to
hire someone who knows what they’re doing to do stuff.
Now, you’re all going to roll your eyes, but one of the
things I hired to have done is have my driveway plowed this winter. I leave for
work in the morning, and I return home after dark — well, OK, but 5 p.m. in this
winter still is “after dark,” so it worked better for me to hire a service to
plow out my driveway.
I hired a local landcare and snowcare service with a good
reputation. They did some fall cleanup work at my house here and in Amboy, and I
was extremely pleased with their thoroughness and their rate, so I hired them to
plow the driveway.
You might recall I drive a Jeep, but the novelty of putting
the Wrangler into four-wheel drive to go from the cleared street to the garage
door loses its allure after about the first two times, so I hired the service to
clear my driveway.
After the last sizeable snowfall, the owner of the company
called, after I’d emailed them to tell them I wanted to contract with them for
snowplowing, and asked if I wanted them to come and do the driveway immediately.
Since that snowfall was considerable and since the weather
forecasters were calling for an ice storm and more snow, I said yes. “No
problem,” he said, “I’ll send a crew over.”
I thought, no problem, they’ll send a truck with a snowplow,
a couple quick swipes and it will be done. My dad had a truck with a blade and
let me play with it a couple times in instances where I couldn’t possibly damage
property or the truck itself, so I’m familiar with the basics of snowplowing.
So I’m home for lunch and, to borrow words from a popular
country song, this “big ol’ jacked up truck, rollin’ on 35s” pulled up in front
of my house. No snowplow.
Hmmm, who’s this? Friends of the neighbor’s teenagers?
They parked the truck up the street, and two young men with
bright orange vests, thick hooded sweatshirts and the baggy jeans popular among
skateboarders rappelled down from this truck, resplendent with the shiny “spin
rims” that are so popular.
They seemed dressed, sort of, for cold weather work. Both
had on workboots.
They took a look at the driveway and then grabbed huge snow
shovels, more like snowplows on a stick, and went to work, scraping and cleaning
my driveway and front sidewalk.
When they finished, it was so clear of snow it might have
been August — it was so clean.
And this was not easy work — it was not just a little snow,
and the driveway isn’t super short. But they cleared it perfectly.
We talk about first impressions a lot in agriculture. We
talk about stereotypes. We talk a lot, maybe too much, about “city people”
having the stereotype of today’s farmers and agribusiness people as hayseeds
with a straw hanging out of their mouths, dressed in overalls and gingham
What we don’t do is consider the fingers pointing back at
us. I had the wrong impression that the young men who crawled out of a jacked-up
truck with shiny wheel rims, dressed warmly but wearing baggy jeans and
oversized hoodies, couldn’t possibly be here to work on my driveway.
I was wrong. They worked and they worked hard and they
clearly knew their job and were skilled in it.
What about the stereotypes we have in agriculture? What
about the stereotype perpetuated in agriculture that if you didn’t grow up on a
farm, you automatically know nothing about agriculture or farming or livestock?
What about our automatic dismissal from a lot of agriculture
conversations of those who aren’t sons and daughters of farmers or who didn’t
participate in 4-H or go to a land-grant university?
How many great conversations, how much new information, how
many valuable relationships do those stereotypes prevent us from having?
It is tough to let go of long-held beliefs and stereotypes.
It really cuts down on the library of comic material that many ag speakers and
presenters have when we eliminate the “city folks,” “city slicker,” “urbans” and
“urbanites” from the conversation.
It also forces those who have been elevated to be “rock
stars” of agriculture share that spotlight and that stage, something they may
not be ready or willing to do.
Do many people who live in larger population centers lack
knowledge of agriculture or how farming is done? Sure. We know that.
But we need to step back and consider that many of those who
live in the country, who live even on farms, lack some knowledge of it, too.
Nowadays, geographical location and residency is a poor indicator of how much
knowledge of farming or agriculture a person has.
Up the street, in the newer, larger-home section of my
subdivision, lives someone who drives a Pioneer Hybrid pickup truck.
He or she lives in the subdivision, in a nice house and not
in the country or on a farm by any means. Would you say that person lacks any
kind of knowledge of GMOs or crop production or seed treatment?
I’d expect he or she knows a fair amount about farming, and
yet he or she would be considered “city people” by those whose strictest
definition is limited to where a person chooses to live, not by what or how much
they know about farming and agriculture.
On the reverse side, a friend of mine was raised on a beef
and grain farm in northwest Illinois. She always jokes that she is a “farm
princess” and that she stayed “on the other side of the fence.”
She really wasn’t involved in the farming operation nor had
any interest to do so. She wasn’t in 4-H or FFA.
She was more interested in the creative and artistic
ventures in high school. She has a tremendous musical gift and went on to
So, again, those who limit their inclusion to residency
would include her — although she has no interest in and little knowledge of
grain farming or beef cattle production and never was involved in the family
For the new year, let’s broaden our horizons. Let’s all try
to drop the “where are you from” part of the introduction to being the first
question asked and replace it with “so, what’s your connection to agriculture.”
Whether it’s the guys in the big ol’ jacked-up truck and the
“boarder” jeans or the agribusiness owner who lives in the house in town, let’s
think positive and invite everyone into the conversation.