This afternoon I was in the closest grocery store, a half hour drive from the ranch, picking up a few staple products for the pantry and candy canes for the students in the the 20 classes I will visit this week for Ag in the Classroom. 336 candy canes to be exact. The checkout boy commented on the 28 boxes as he was ringing them up. I explained that I would be talking to the classes about corn and explaining to the students (& teachers) all of the hundreds of products that are produced with corn products, including the corn syrup in the candy canes. He looked at me confused, then commented that he didn’t think kids cared where candy comes from, just that they get some. He then shared that some people just give candy canes at Christmas without trying to teach a lesson.
His statement concerned me, because the truth resonated loudly. We have become a society that doesn’t care where the products we want come from, just that we have them. Was anything on those long Christmas lists produced here in the United States to keep our neighbors employed? Do we think of that as we frantically fill our online carts on Cyber Monday? Slowly we are starting to see the tide turn, but in a dangerous direction. Consumers are asking where there food comes from and how it is produced. That’s fine! I applaud and encourage such investigation. Knowledge is power. We want to know we are making wise choices, especially when it comes to feeding our families.
The danger in the scenario is when consumers removed 3 or 4 generations from the farms and ranches that produce their food read a post from an online scare tactic “expert” or take advice based on someone’s opinion, not fact. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that’s what is driving the tide of new consumer driven regulations dictating how producers grow their crops and raise their animals. When 2% of the population feeds this country but are overwhelmingly outvoted by the other 98% bad and costly decisions will be made.
When I was in the grocery store, I also purchased a Christmas cactus. I remember growing up my father’s parents had many of the gorgeous plants, on their large southern window sill, that bloomed throughout the holiday season. I loved seeing the understated plant suddenly erupt into a blaze of color about Thanksgiving with the riot of pinkish red proudly bursting forth until the snows were deep in the end of January. Those blossoms were the same an an Advent Calendar to me. Enjoying those bright plants in the dead of winter was a part of our family’s Christmas traditions. I decided my old children should enjoy this simple pleasure, so picked a hardy plant and placed it in my cart.
The same young man scanned the plant that scanned the candy canes. Because I’m a visiting sort, I let him in on the fact having Christmas Cactus had been a tradition in my family. He commented that was cool and many people were buying them. On my drive home, I thought about how he had the power and the vote to decide which of my family traditions should continue, raising crops and/or Christmas Cactus. While that may seem like a large leap, alarmingly, it isn’t.
It terrifies me to think I have worked my life, as those before me, to build a family Ag operation to see continued by the next generation, that could radically change overnight with well meaning but misinformed consumers and their votes and demands. Taking GMO enhanced corn off the market clears all the shelves of candy canes loved by children across the world. Losing the ability to take the best attributes from one plant and add them to another will cost the beauty of hybrid plants like Christmas Cactus available in a grocery store in Kansas in December, and radicalized voices can bring to an end to our family’s cattle ranch.
All the careful succession planning in the world cannot preserve of family’s time honored and loved tradition of helping feed the world high quality, safe, delicious, nutritious, and affordable beef if we allow the 98% that are unfamiliar with our world to set the laws, policies, and guidelines. It’s my duty as the “older generation” to speak up and tell our story while there is still one to tell.
That’s how it is tonight on Our Ranch, with Our Family, in My World.