February 27, 2012
Shirtsleeves and Bootstraps Make for ‘Rich’ FarmersBy Glen Cope
My parents taught me from a young age that you need not look any farther than the end of your own shirt sleeve for a helping hand. It’s a creed that I, and most of the farmers in this great country, live by. In an era of corporate greed and government bailouts, I’m mighty proud of that old shirtsleeve, as I know other farmers and ranchers are. We are also fond of our trusty bootstraps, by which we sometimes have to pull ourselves up.
We’ve all heard that old expression that “Farmers are the salt of the Earth.” As a fourth generation farmer, I truly believe it. We care deeply for our land, animals and ability to provide food for our country. But, as people become further removed from agriculture, that old expression is not being met with the same public acceptance it once was.
Public misconceptions, mostly fueled by anti-agriculture activists, are giving farmers a bad rap. For example, because farmers have been innovative in research and technology to better care for the environment and provide healthier food with fewer inputs, we are being punished for being too tech-savvy. Because we incorporate with other family members for tax purposes, we are called “big, corporate ag,” even though 98 percent of U.S. farms remain family-owned. And because we care for our animals in a scientifically-proven and veterinary-approved manner, we are told by activist groups that we don’t know how to care for our animals.
Recently, I was in a taxi cab in New Orleans on the way to the airport heading home to Missouri. In a light-hearted conversation with the cab driver, I mentioned I was a farmer. His first response was, “Oh, you must be rich.” Far from it, I told him, explaining the many input and operating costs we have and how farmers really live.
This conversation was still on my mind when I landed back at my local airport and got into my muddy farm truck, which painfully stuck out in a sea of shiny cars and SUVs. As I headed home, the houses and subdivisions grew fewer and fewer and the rows of streetlights were replaced with fencerows and cow pastures. I returned home to the farm where not only I was raised, but my father, grandfather and great-grandfather also grew up. And I could not help but think of the blessings that farmers experience every day – the fresh air and green grass, and the ability to raise one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world. Most importantly, I am able to raise my children as I was raised, in a rural setting, while teaching them the values of a hard day’s work.
It’s a shame that all Americans can’t experience living and working on a farm for just one day. They’d get some fresh air in their lungs and some dirt under their fingernails; they’d get to use some really cool farm equipment and technology, knowing these tools are contributing to a safer and cleaner environment; they’d get to work with and care for some of God’s best living creatures; and, best of all, they’d get to work alongside their families.
Glen Cope, a fourth generation beef producer in Southwest Missouri, is chair of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.