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 house.

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 shirts.

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 develop that.

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 farming operation.

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.