A few weeks ago, on a sweltering hot evening, The Farmer and I attended a soil health seminar on a large livestock farm. The participants learned about the operation, oogled some big equipment, muttered and shook our heads together about the drought conditions, and dug in the heavy clay soil to look for signs of soil health.
I was impressed with the humility and knowledge of the owner of this large operation. Despite his farm's status as a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation), he was genuinely concerned for and actively pursuing the health of his animals. I tell people who think that Big Farmers Are Evil to chew on the following idea: Even IF (and I know NO farmers that are this way), but IF hypothetically a farmer was in it purely for the money only, and cared nothing for his livestock, he would still take care of his animals. Because sick, neglected, abused animals do NOT make money for a farmer. Think about that for a while.
Now, are there bad players among livestock farmers? Surely there are. But you wouldn't paint ALL pet owners as evil just because we find an occasional little old lady with 90 neglected cats in a feces-encrusted home or a couple of guys running a vicious dog-fighting ring. So please don't paint all livestock farmers as evil because bad farmers exist.
Whew. Did I just get off track? Sorry. I've got it out of my system, now.
Anyway, after the great time we had discussing soil health with this livestock farmer and the other participants, we decided to host a seminar at our farm.
These seminars were sponsored by the local Conservation District. They, along with university extension agents, are the unsung heroes of ag education. We have benefitted greatly from mentoring by people from both these agencies.
We worried about whether or not anyone would come. Participants would have to drive a distance to come. But worse, all of those who attended the other evening seminars were conventional farmers--and we raise organic crops. Would they just write us off as crazies, and stay home that night?
They came--the same 10 or 12 people who had been attending the other evening farm visits. We dug up different plants from around our farm, and looked at health above and below the ground. We talked about cultivating vs. spraying. We explained our farm's history, operation, and some of the "why" we do things the way we do. We overheard one of the other farmers muttering, "I couldn't STAND to have this many weeds in my field!" (The truth is, we don't really like it, either.)
These 10-12 people were nothing earth-shattering as far as numbers go. But the fact that they were willing to come and discuss the differing practices between organic and conventional farmer, as well as the different outcomes, encourages me.
There is much that we can learn from each other. But we cannot learn if we won't even talk--and listen--to each other.