Seeing the Tides Turn as a Face of Farming & Ranching - Food Dialogues

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Seeing the Tides Turn as a Face of Farming & Ranching

As my two years of being a Face of Farming & Ranching for U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) comes to a close, the biggest takeaway from this whole experience is that we’re starting to see a movement where people understand a little more about where their food comes from. Consumers are genuinely concerned about how their food is grown, and farmers are doing an unbelievable job of stepping off the farm and stepping in front of people to share their story.

Representing USFRA at SXSW Eco included Faces of Farming & Ranching Jay Hill and Carla Wardin, USFRA Communications Committee member Mary Hagan (NCGA) and Paul Spooner on USFRA staff.

When I started this adventure, I thought of it as an opportunity to show the country exactly what I do and how I produce food in an extremely safe and wholesome manner. USFRA and other farm, commodity and industry groups have come together to put farmers and ranchers in front of consumers to talk about where their food and fiber comes from. It’s been humbling to see reactions of people when I talk to them about what I do on my own farm, and I’ve learned so much hearing about people’s concerns of agricultural practices.

As I finish my term with USFRA, so many farmers have asked me if we’re seeing a difference, if consumers are actually engaging with farmers more and whether they’re listening. And I can honestly say, the tides are turning. One of many reasons why I believe this is because of my experience at SXSW Eco, which I participated in the past two years. This conference takes place in Austin, Texas, and it’s a conglomeration of people and companies that meet to discuss climate, food production and innovative technologies that are helping farmers improve the way they grow and raise food.

An Evolving Perception of Agriculture

Back in 2015, I was at the conference and listening to a panel of different companies talk about human rights, GMOs vs. organic and the humane treatments of animals. People were throwing daggers at everything I tried so hard to achieve, and they criticized the way I produce food. To represent the farmer voice, I stood up and asked for five minutes of their time to explain what I do on my farm, how I raise my conventional and organic crops sustainably, why I use GMOs and how I care for my beef cattle. After I spoke, a multitude of people came to talk to me and said they’d never heard that’s what actually happens on the farm. However, I also received many negative responses, even threats, on my Twitter feed. These people didn’t want to take the time to hear my story and acknowledge my efforts, which was definitely defeating.

So in 2016 returning to SXSW Eco, I was apprehensive and really had to prepare myself mentally. But what I saw was astounding. There were some interesting keynote speakers – some talked about the potential of GMOs and CRISPR technology, while others still demonized conventional farming practices such as pesticide use and pollution from livestock operations. But I had the opportunity again to interact with this influential group of people and explain what we’re doing as farmers. What tools and technologies we’re using and the science behind why and how they’re improving our environment. When I talked to them about my farm in the middle of the desert and water being my greatest natural resource, I shared that GMOs allow me to conserve water and grow a variety of seed corn that’s drought resistant. This tool makes me a more efficient farmer; I’m able to use less pesticides and preserve my natural resources.

Last year it was naysayers and threats – this year it was handshakes and people thanking me for what I do. I left SXSW on a high knowing that the light bulb went off and people recognized that conventional agriculture and the use of GMOs are sustainable and crucial in conserving our natural resources. We’re slowly but surely bridging this important gap between farmers and consumers.

Ask a Farmer Anything

Today’s farmers and ranchers are doing everything in their power to grow and raise food that is wholesome and safe. So many farmers aren’t able to go out and share their story with the world like I have. Because of USFRA and other farmers and ranchers actively talking to consumers, we’re starting to find that people are putting their trust back into American agriculture again. It’s great talking with growers who want to start a Facebook page or get on Snapchat to show everyone what they do.

If you’re not involved in food production, I’d encourage you to find farmers and ranchers and reach out to ask them questions. If you have a legitimate concern about certain ways we grow and raise food, it’s my job as a farmer to address the validity of your argument. It’s important for us to come to places like SXSW Eco and other consumer events to stay relevant with what’s going on in the world and engage in these conversations.

Before you say or post something based off a fear tactic, please ask somebody in food production that knows more about it. If you have questions about how your food is produced, transported or processed, I will answer those questions or connect you someone who knows those answers.

Our Commitment to Transparency and Sustainability

As a farmer that grows a lot of crops that go directly to consumers, I’m only going to grow food that I’m comfortable feeding my family, and in turn feeding yours as well. In growing GMOs, I researched them to make sure I’m doing the right thing, that I’m bettering the world and that I’m leaving my farm in better condition when I first started farming it. And I truly believe this tool helps me achieve this. It’s time for farmers to open their gates and be more transparent than ever. We’re starting to see the public persona want to trust agriculture, but we need to show them. I vow as a farmer that I’ll always be transparent no matter what we’re doing — there’s never a closed door.

Both conventional and organic farmers are doing our best job to ensure your family has a sustainable food supply. We want to make sure it’s grown in the most natural way possible, while always considering the environment in our endeavors. We check for beneficial bugs before we spray pesticides, and we make optimum bee health a priority when pollinators move through our region. These are the things we do on a daily basis but have never explained them to the public before.

Just remember — when you wake up, the first thing you do is eat, and that’s something we all have in common. Without you there’s no me, and without me there’s no you. I want to thank USFRA for giving me a voice, and I want to thank the American consumer for putting your trust in us. Today’s farmers and ranchers’ goal is to grow and raise perfect produce, perfect fiber and perfect commodities for you. It’s our job to show the world that our agriculture system is alive and well, and we’re here to provide our families and your families a safe and nutritious food supply.

Jay Hill’s father, Jim Hill, established Hill Farms in 1969 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the farm grew slowly while his family lived off a non-agriculture income. As Jay grew up helping with the farm, learning and growing with it, it cultivated his love for the lifestyle. He now farms nearly 1,000 acres. Jay focuses on vegetable production, always aspiring to grow a good tasting, safe product in the most cost effective way.

All opinions expressed are the writer’s own. Funded by one or more checkoff programs.