March 9 2022 08:00 AM

As farmers, we hope for consumers to be open-minded enough to listen to what we have to say, but are we open-minded enough to listen to each other?

I’m angry. I’m angry at me and I’m angry at you. Farmers are less than 2% of the population. It’s a statistic we love to flaunt because it makes us feel important because we are important. But in one breath, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, and in the next, we complain about how hard it is to do — how much work it takes to feed the world and how underappreciated we feel. Yet when someone new tries to infiltrate our world, we become the mean girls who only wear pink on Wednesdays. Guys, anyone can wear pink any day.

I could explain how intolerant farmers can be, or I can prove it. The following are secrets I’ve collected through my Secrets of Ag project, and they prove just how uninviting the agricultural community can be.

‘I grew up fully immersed in ag. Got a B.S. and (almost) an M.S. in agriculture-related fields, but I’m not using either degree. I feel guilty (like a fraud almost?) saying that I’m part of the ag industry because I’m not at the moment.’

‘I hate that I feel like I don’t belong in the ‘farm wives club.’ I grew up on a farm, am heavily involved in the ag world, and even live on a farm. But because my husband is just a farm hand, I’m not a real farm wife.’

‘I feel like a fraud because I didn’t have the opportunity to do 4-H and don’t know how fair showing/projects work. I don’t know how to ask about or gain this understanding.’

‘I’m somewhat new to the ag industry, at least compared to many others, and I constantly struggle with feelings of inadequacy. I wasn’t raised on a farm, though I was raised around my extended family’s farms, and I’ve been working at a farm for the past couple of years. As it comes time for me to think about a career, I know I want to pursue one in the ag industry, but it’s really hard for me to feel like I fit in and deserve to be part of the industry. I’m intimidated by others my age who seem to already know so much more than me and have so much more experience. I feel like an imposter and as though I’m impossibly far behind everyone else who seem to just KNOW things because they grew up on farms. Is there a trick to not feeling like I’m just some kid playing dress up here? Will I ever feel like I actually belong? Even as I look back on knowledge I’ve gained, it seems inconsequential and not all that impressive. I’m willing to work hard and I’m passionate, but it feels like I’m always behind the ‘real’ farmers and ag people.’

I’m imagining crickets. If you’re a farmer reading this, I hope those secrets elicited a good heavy pause. Because we should be ashamed. I don’t completely understand why we’re so distrusting, but if you’re truly honest with yourself, you know it’s true. Maybe we feel threatened; most likely we feel underappreciated. Whatever the reason, we need to get over it. No matter how you try to sugarcoat it, we are bullying new farmers and it needs to stop.

New farmers deal with all the hardships of generational farmers and then some. Most of them start with nothing: no animals, no land, little experience, and little knowledge. They fight the same barriers we do with the added hardship of learning as they go, often with less guidance and support than those of us who grew up in ag.

So, let’s work harder to check our attitudes and take the phrase “ag supporting ag” seriously. Wouldn’t that just be so fetch?

Jessica Peters

The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.