I’m going to be real and honest with you here. I have spent eight years of my career also working in the meat industry. I’ve seen things most people don’t want to see. I’ve been lucky enough to celebrate years and generations of hard work with farmers continuing their family’s legacies. I’ve been to some of the smallest towns I thought only existed in movies these days. I’ve been to meat processing facilities and learned I’m not quite as strong as I thought I was.
The Covid-19 pandemic has tested us individually, as families, as communities, as a nation, even globally. I can only speak for myself, but it’s apparent the year 2020 hasn’t been what most anticipated…not even close. While I no longer work directly with farmers, the opportunities I’ve mentioned above have taught me lessons I still reference today. Just like the blogpost I shared about what we can learn from endurance athletes, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from small, family farms over the years. These qualities won’t just get us through the pandemic, but will help with everyday life.
The hard work that goes into raising animals responsibly and taking care of your land isn’t something you turn on and off when you feel like it. There is a level of commitment in farming that’s hard to compare anywhere else I’ve seen. Farmers don’t get sick days or time off for holidays. You get vacation time - farmers get to fix equipment, update their barn, rotate crops, and so much more. It is a relentless commitment that keeps them going day in and day out.
Good farming takes time. Our “quick fix” society always looking for what we can do more of bigger, better, and faster has impacted our food system. I’ve seen what industrial farming has done to our land and communities. The small, family farm that doesn’t have access to technology and quite frankly, who doesn’t want to use that still has compete in the same market as the farmers using those practices. The small family farmer that rotates crops and livestock to better the land understands the value each piece plays in the sustainability of the land and our food. They use age-old techniques and allow animals to grow at the rate they’re supposed to, not forcing them to grow quicker. It takes longer, and it costs more. You think feeding your teenage son costs a lot? Try feeding a herd of 20-month old cattle!
I was talking to one of the farmers I used to work with and I asked him why other farmers would want to supply their hogs to industrial farming programs when those programs pay so little. He told me, “Well Karen, they get paid more for the manure than they do the actual animal.” I’ll just leave you with that thought…
Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” If that’s not a synonym for a farmer, then I don’t know what is. Farmers are some of the toughest people I know, and most have stories that will make you cry. Cry because you’re sad they went through whatever it was, but also tears of joy that people who are often viewed so simply, came through stronger than ever.
I was at an event in Colorado to celebrate cattle ranchers a few years ago. When the ranchers were asked to stand up so we could applaud them, there was a young woman that stood up with all the men in the room. Immediately, I was like “Yes! You go girl.” As the dinner and celebration continued, two men got up to present a new award in honor of one of the young farmers who died tragically in an accident on the farm that year. The entire room went silent when they called the young woman’s name so she could accept the award on behalf of her husband who she lost that year. Despite all my years in the fitness industry, this is the strongest I’ve ever seen anyone. She walked up to the microphone while her family held her toddler and she said she was proud to announce she would be farming herself to make her husband proud and continue their hard work they had started together…….
Speaking of being proud. Staying true to yourself, while adjusting to the changing landscape can be difficult. I mention that I’ve been to some of the smallest towns I didn’t think existed anymore and it’s true. As industrial farming grew it also took out more than many small family farms. Without the farms, there were no feed stores, schools, banks, markets. When farming is the primary job for people who live locally, and that’s taken from them, they can’t sustain the economy within their small community. We see bumper stickers that say “No Farms, No Food” but they should say “No Farms, No Communities.”
Farmers are some of the most respectful people I’ve ever met. I think this comes from them being such committed, patient, resilient, proud people. Nothing is taken for granted and all is utilized. Even waste, isn’t wasted. Their respect for land, animals, and opportunity carries over to those they meet. They work together and rely on each other to get through droughts, storms, market turns, etc. And it’s all done with respect.
While I don’t own a farm and I consider gardening hard work, farming is in my blood. There were farms on both sides of my family years ago. So long ago that I never saw them as farms. I wish I could have seen them and I do plan on driving to my grandfather’s old farm in Stark, NH some day.
In my attempt to help others build a positive relationship with food, a lot of what I've learned and try to share involves understanding where your food comes from. Teaching others how to produce food and protect our land is crucial for sustainability. Just like recipes, farming can be passed down from generation to generation. The land and the animals tell stories, share memories, and make people feel good.
It’s hard to believe summer is here and the 4th of July is next week. When Covid-19 began and our life came to an abrupt halt back in March, it never felt like we’d get here. Times have changed and our world, especially our nation is hurting right now. Maybe we can learn some things from our farmers? If we are committed, we will get through this. We will need to be patient and show resilience. Be proud of who you are and stand up for what you believe in. Most of all, show others respect. Our kids are watching our behavior and we must pass these qualities down to them so there can be a better future for all.
I'll leave you with one more thought when considering the prices of meats you see in the stores. When you see a ham that costs 90 cents per pound, what do you think the farmer actually got for that? After the processing plant takes some money, the trucking company takes some money, and the store takes some money. The farmer cares for the sow (pregnant pig) through pregnancy which is three months, three weeks, and three days with hogs. And then raises the pig for about six months (give or take). All for an uneven portion of 90 cents per pound. Think about that on a whole animal scale. To work that hard and make less than everyone else involved in just the finishing and transportation part of the process.
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