American Farm Bureau President Declares War on "self-appointed and self promoting food experts" (UPDATED)

Wheatroad
Picture: Dry land wheat field and farm road in Eastern Washington.

UPDATE: I can see that this post has stirred up quite a reaction from folks at American Farm Bureau and several farmers who were present at the address have chimed in with some very helpful comments. I do want to be fair and the last thing I want to do is misrepresent what was said but for now I think the title of the post is an accurate characterization of what was said.

Here's the key section in context:

It is up to us to share the strength of our character and the tradition of our values with our fellow citizens.

But, a line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and the way we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule.

Our adversaries are skillful at taking advantage of our politeness. Publicly, they call for friendly dialogue while privately their tactics are far from that.

Who could blame us for thinking that the avalanche of misguided, activist-driven regulation on labor and environment being proposed in Washington is anything but unfriendly.

The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over.

General George Patton was very quotable. He said that in times of war, “Make your plans to fit the circumstances.”

To those who expect to just roll over America’s farm and ranch families, my only message is this: The circumstances have changed.

Go here to listen to or download the full speech. When you use phrases like "in times of war" and quote from a famous general, I think it's fair to characterize it as "declaring war" on the "elitists" and "food activists". That's how the Capital Press heard it also when they summed up the address as a "Call to Arms."

The more debatable question is whether this is "declaring war" on consumers, and to be fair I will revise the body of the original post to say "consumer activists" instead of simply "consumers" I think what he misses and what I am reacting to so strongly in the post is that the activists are the consumers and vice versa. You can't disparage "activists" on the one hand and assume that "consumers" are a distinct group apart from activists that will not be stung by the characterization. I have been working for the last two years on this blog and elsewhere to cultivate local food culture in our region from the perspective of the consumer, and I can't help but see myself and others I know in our community who are concerned about these issues as the one's he is disparaging as "self-appointed and self promoting food experts". Maybe he should clarify who exactly it is that is the enemy in this whole war metaphor.

Original Post is as follows:

I had to stop by my local farm supply store this morning to get something for a sick chicken and I noticed a provocative headline on the front page of the "Capital Press: The West's Ag Weekly." In bold letters it  declares a "Call to arms" with a lead in quote from Bob Stallman, president of American Farm Bureau, stating "A line must be drawn."

The article goes on to describe Mr. Stallman's strident keynote address to 5,000 people at the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau;

'It is up to us to share the strength of our character and the tradition of our values with our fellow citizens. But a line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and the way we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the days of 40 acres and mule.'

In his annual address to Farm Bureau members, Stallman decried 'the nonstop criticism of contemporary agriculture.'

He described how inaccurate and unfair movies, magazine articles and undercover videos have attempted to turn public opinion against agriculture. Those external forces have created the stereotypes of 'monoculture, factory farms, industrial food and big ag,' he said.

As 'self-appointed and self-promoting food experts' seek to damage the reputation of traditional agricultural values, he said, it is all the more vital for American farmers and ranchers to adopt a new attitude.'

He invoked General George Patton, saying that in times of war, 'Make your plans to fit the circumstances...Are we going to let animal rights activists destroy our ability to produce meat that Americans want to eat? I say: No we are not!...Can we stand up - as did our forefathers - and fight for a better future for this great country? I say: Yes we can!"

If I'm hearing him correctly he just declared war on consumers activists who are concerned with these issues. I hear him saying, "Just eat your food and be grateful. Let us farmers worry about agricultural practices." Ironically he goes on to observe in an interview with the Capital Press;

"Most people are four or five generations removed from the farm, and they have no understanding of basic production agriculture."

So on the one hand he declares war on consumers activists, like me and many readers of this blog, as a bunch of no good, know nothings but on the other hand laments that the problem is that people are too disconnected and aloof from where their food comes from.

I have a couple of observations;

1. If I didn't have chickens I wouldn't be a regular at the local farm supply store and I wouldn't have the occasion to see a provocative headline from an weekly agricultural magazine. Participating in agriculture and farming practices, even if on a micro, suburban scale is key to being engaged in conversations about agriculture and food systems. Otherwise all we'll ever see are the hypnotic headlines of People and Us magazines. It's interesting that the places we buy our food are not the places we find information on where the food comes from.

2. I agree that farmers are at times unfairly demonized by food activists.

3. I have no interest in a war with big agriculture. I regularly make it clear on this blog that I am no expert on food or agriculture. I see these things primarily from the perspective of consumer, and instead of dismissing people like me, farm bureaus need to include us in the conversation. Don't lump us all together as if anyone who asks questions about big ag practices is an extremist. I have great respect for farmers and I believe that if we are going to make positive changes in agricultural practices farmers are the ones who will pioneer and innovate the new practices. There are few things in the world more difficult than making a living from farming and farmers deserve our support and respect.

4. Stallman says, "Are we going to let animal rights activists destroy our ability to produce meat that Americans want to eat?" I am part of a growing movement of people who are also drawing a line in the sand and are saying through our consumer choices that we don't want to eat the meat the current system produces. The American Farm Bureau ignores this reality at the peril of the farmers' it represents.

As consumers we feel incredibly powerless to change the system and so we are changing our consumption practices.We're raising our own chickens and eating their eggs. We're tearing out our lawns and growing vegetables and canning them for the winter. We're shopping at farmers' markets so that we can know the farmers and the practices that brought out food to market. We're asking where our food comes from and in some cases are horrified by what we're discovering. And more than any of that we are re-discovering the joy of being connected to people and food and land in our communities. We are becoming friends with our farmers and working with them on ways to strengthen our community and our economy.

So you can have your war Bob, and your George Patton quotes. We'd rather collaborate and quote Wendell Berry.