November 29, 2021

Rural Issues: Reality is what you make of it

“Perception is reality” is a phrase created by political consultant Lee Atwater back in the 1980s. In a nutshell, it means don’t worry about the facts. If you can get people to believe something, it becomes a “de facto” fact.

Our neighbors, Lashley and Joyce, have laughed with us over the years about how when we first moved to our farm in mid-Missouri almost 20 years ago, many people assumed because we were not from there, we must be city folks.

It made no difference to this wonderful couple that live just up the creek from us where we came from. They were interested in getting to know what we are made of.

Years ago, Lashley told us the story about when the “hippies” moved to the area 50 years ago. Joyce admonished him, “Now, Lashley, don’t call them that.”

With a grin, he said, “Well, when the free-thinkers moved to the area…” He told us how good it was for the community to be exposed to a different culture.

Some of the “hippies” lived in teepees, with no running water. They had milk goats and grew vegetables and hoped to share their vast knowledge of Mother Nature with the original inhabitants of the area.

Much to the surprise of the “hippies,” many in this little agricultural community had been growing vegetables and milking cows for generations.

Lashley and Joyce became fast friends with one couple. Joyce laughed, “My friend wanted to teach me to can vegetables. She didn’t realize that I had been canning vegetables forever. She came from the city and living off the land was all new and exciting to her. For many of us, it was simply survival.”

It was back in the early ‘80s when a gentleman living on that hippie commune began making a drink from fermented rice at a small food business there.

Fast forward to 2021 and that company, long since gone from the hippie farm, claims to be one of, if not the largest natural and organic food company in the United States.

The “hippie” couple, both lawyers, moved back to the big city, several states away, but continue to correspond with my neighbors. Open minds and open hearts can open doors.

These people learned from one another and continue to do so. If we would all open our minds and learn from our neighbors — and, in turn, they from us — what a difference it would make.

A simple conversation about what we grow in our gardens and prepare in our kitchens could lead to a conversation about the value of production agriculture and agribusiness to the social and economic well-being of this great nation. In turn, we could gain a clearer understanding of their wants, needs and the expectations of those who grow their food.

Perception is reality.

Let’s work harder to position agriculture in the positive light it deserves and open our minds and ears to the wants and needs of our neighbors and our customers — even the “hippies.”

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.