ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Food security is one aspect of national security.
“A nation that cannot feed itself is not free,” said Amanda Radke, a fifth-generation rancher and author of children’s books who spoke during the Women in Agriculture conference presented by Illinois Farm Bureau.
“Our food system is under attack and the American farmer and rancher is the solution and the last beacon of freedom,” she said. “He who controls the land controls the food, and he who controls the food controls the people.”
Radke is the type of person who likes to fix things.
“I can’t control what’s happening halfway around the world or in Washington, D.C., but I can control what’s happening at home with my family and my cattle operation,” she said.
“The way I look at advocacy has changed dramatically since 2020,” said Radke, who together with her husband are licensed foster parents. “Pre-pandemic and pre-foster care, I thought we needed to educate our voters because they don’t understand what we do.”
The Radkes have been foster parents to kids ranging from 7 months to 11 years old.
“I’ve seen all kinds of traumas and heartbreaks,” she said.
“We prioritize family time at the dinner table because the most important gift I can give my kids is time with a meal,” she said. “We pray together, spend time together and talk together and that’s what we did with the foster kids.”
One of the things Radke noticed is the foster kids would eat several helpings during a meal.
“That’s because they know what it’s like to go to bed with an empty stomach,” she said. “One of four kids goes to bed hungry at night, but it’s different when you see it at your own dining room table.”
“That’s when I realized it wasn’t politicians that were going to fix our nation’s problems — it’s you and I who have access to the land and livestock,” she said. “We have the ability to raise safe and nutritious food and yet 40% of the food we grow in this country ends up in landfills.”
Storytelling about agriculture is important, Radke said, and it doesn’t need to be a fancy Reel or a special dance on TikTok.
“We just have to show up and tell what we do,” she said.
“As this country gets crazier, people are hungry for things that are good and wholesome,” she said. “That’s what American agriculture is — people that are trying to do what’s right every day.”
In 2011, Radke teamed up with a woman she went to college with and is now a rancher in Minnesota to write a children’s book, “Levi’s Lost Calf.”
She started this project because she did not like the way stories were told about American agriculture.
“What really triggered me into action was the movie, ‘Barnyard,’ where a cow walked on his back legs and had an udder, but he was a dude,” she said. “That made me mad and I decided I had to fix this.”
In “Levi’s Lost Calf,” the main hero is the farmer who takes care of the animals.
“Writing children’s books started a journey for me of going into classrooms and teaching kids about where their food comes from,” Radke said.
“I realized that not many people have an opportunity to meet a farmer, yet every day they’re told in the news we’re terrible people abusing animals and providing food they should be scared about.”
Radke has read her children’s books from Los Angles to New York City and many cities in between.
Ten years ago, she was in an airport in New York City and a man sat down next to her and asked if she was a cowgirl since she was wearing cowboy boots.
“He said he had never met a cowgirl before,” she recalled. “I found out he worked on Wall Street and I told him I had never met someone who worked on Wall Street.”
After a great back-and-forth exchange, Radke said, she gave the man her business card.
“He called me a week later when pink slime hit the news and I answered all his questions,” she said.
During the pandemic, Radke got another phone call from the Wall Street worker asking her if she shipped beef since meat was so difficult to find in the grocery stores.
“I said I don’t sell beef online, but I have friends that do and I gave him six names,” she said.
“Within a week, he had beef delivered to his New York City apartment when the whole city was shut down,” Radke said.
“When I talk about the importance of sharing our story, it isn’t about going viral on social media,” she said. “It’s the one-on-one connection we can make with people who are going through something and looking for solutions.”
Radke was able to connect with one man from New York City and help him purchase beef for his family.
“That is advocacy in action and we all have our sphere of influence,” she said. “You can volunteer, donate food to the food pantry or foster. You can be reaching one person or one family and each of you have the power, influence and ability to make a difference.”
It comes down to why you do what you do, Radke said.
“Hopefully, you have a purpose, passion and reason that fuels why you’re involved in agriculture,” she said. “Once you know your why, the storytelling, advocacy, writing of letters or calling politicians becomes easy.”
“I challenge you to figure out your purpose or the problem right in front of you and go fix it,” she said. “That’s the only way we can save this country, secure our food and ensure you and I stay in production agriculture for years and years to come.”
To order Radke’s children’s books, visit www.amandaradke.com.