By Lesley Schmidt, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer
Lesley contributes to her fifth-generation family farm while working full-time at an engineering firm. On the farm, she helps produce alfalfa, oats, sorghum, soybeans and wheat. She also helps manage the cow/calf operation. In the city, she is a civil computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) technician, cartographer and permit writer. During track and field season, Lesley officiates at schools, including colleges, across Kansas.
If you have a social media account, you have probably seen some heated discussions about food. In real life, I’ve had a lot of great conversations about food, farming and agriculture. In fact, I have the opportunity to talk about my farm nearly every day at work.
My co-workers know about my family farm, and I often get questions about agriculture. I’m happy to talk about what I do on my family farm, and I have even acted as a liaison to help people interested in learning more to go visit a real farm themselves.
Face-to-face conversations are the best way to see each other as people. Rarely do these interactions end with the vitriol I’ve seen online. Frankly, that’s not how most people I know treat others. My non-ag friends are passionate about their jobs, their families and even the food they eat. The enthusiasm is wonderful, and it’s a great start to learning more.
If you feel the same way, let’s all get offline and on the farm, together!
Six Degrees to a Farmer
Chances are, you are less than six phone calls away from the chance to meet a real farmer. If you’re interested, ask your friends. I have helped friends learn about apples by visiting an apple orchard. They had a great time, including a hay-rack ride and drinking fresh apple cider.
Next time you are at the Farmers Market, introduce yourself to the farmer, let them know you have purchased before and enjoyed their produce, offer a compliment and share how you prepared the dish. We love to hear how others have enjoyed our produce and we love to share our ag story.
I’ve helped connect real people to real farmers for real discussions about agriculture. I’ve even helped a state legislator visit a farm to learn more about a bill up for discussion in the Kansas House of Representatives.
My friends and co-workers have asked a lot of questions — and sometimes I don’t know the answer. It’s true. Farmers aren’t experts in all of agriculture. It’s a big industry that grows thousands of different crops, processes and packages them and delivers them to customers. That’s a lot of work!
The good news is interested consumers can easily find tours and experts. In fact, I’ve participated in those tours myself to learn more. I recently went on the annual Health & Wellness Coalition of Wichita Food Tour to learn more about how food is grown, distributed, prepared and consumed in the area. I enjoy learning about food in my community and all the different ways YOU can be involved. We visited a local produce farm, a community garden, a food rescue distribution locker, and a restaurant where the owner uses local produce in his recipes, whom also shared his experience working with farmers. It’s amazing to see how locally grown produce is making an impact in my community.
When a new grocery store opened nearby my office, I went to explore with my co-workers during our lunch break. This gave me the opportunity to bust some myths about hormone-free chicken. Added steroids and hormones aren’t allowed in poultry production in the United States. Any labeling you see touting “hormone-free” chicken is more likely a marketing gimmick since all chicken produced in America is up to this standard.
I’m not a dairy farmer either, but I’ve been able to answer questions about hormones and antibiotics in milk with the help of my dairy friends. Did you know an entire tanker of milk must be dumped on the ground if antibiotics are found in just one sample?
The point is, there are a lot of different aspects of agriculture to explore, and, as farmers, we are eager to share about our unique businesses. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask!
If you are interested in getting offline and away from unproductive arguments, just ask your friend or coworker to help you find a farmer.