By: Casey L. Bradley
“Excellence in farming…It comes from a passion that is culturally prepared – a passion for excellence and order that is handed down to young people by older whom they respect and love. When we destroy the possibility of that succession. We will have gone far toward destroying ourselves.” Wendell Berry – Unsettling of America.
I feel that people come into your life at precisely the right time when you need them. This is precisely what happened to me this month with meeting Stephen Hall (at least virtually). I am so fascinated with his story and his perspective on how to change our industry for the better. He posted on LinkedIn that he was rereading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, and I just had to read it myself.
I will have to warn you that this book can’t be read cover to cover in a day like I tend to read most books, because there is so much to reflect on each page. Reading this book reminds me of the book I intend to write yet in life but have delayed it to gain further knowledge and perspectives. If I had written it 5-10 years ago, it would have sounded bitter and not very inspiring. If I were to write it today, I do not feel I quite have the solution or final perspective I want to share. But I am on this journey as I am still taking the advice of Dr. Tara York…I am just sitting back and listening and watching yet, even though it may not exactly look like that through my social media channels.
Trust me and read this book and come along on this journey with me. I admire Mr. Berry’s perspectives, but I am not as hopeless or dead set that the farmer culture is dying. As a scientist, I believe everything evolves; there is little that remains constant or the same. But what I can relate to in his writings is that the passion of our industry is not sustaining its future. I genuinely know what sacrifices must be made to excel in farming, hours, blood, sweat, and tears. It is inherently in you, or it is not in you. Then, how “modern agriculture” can kill this in an individual. I have heard it from others; we would all love to work in the barns again, but we can’t raise our families on the salaries, and we definitely cannot be “excellent” at what we do.
The brutality or hopelessness of the situation drove me back to graduate school and fast-forward 20 years. This hopelessness and acceptance of just checking the boxes are ever more apparent in our systems today. Few technological advancements have made our jobs easier, yet we are forced to manage more animals per person. We have an industry so adamantly opposed to fighting change that we are driving out the passion in our employees and industry.
So how do we get back our passions? The answer is “a passion for excellence and order is handed down to young people by older people they respect and love.” It is not through Tik-Tok Shorts, Instagram posts, and the fabulously fake glorious, staged videos we share with the general public. It is about the older generation retaking the time to mentor and guide the younger generation. Take it from Tork and Sawyer with “This will do farm” and “Barn Talk” passion is not only bred in Sawyer, but Tork shapes it.
But the reality of the situation is that we need to redevelop this passion outside of the remaining family farms but within our communities and our consumers. I can tell you that working with students and the younger generation is that they are craving real-world, hands-on experience, not a Zoom class or another book to read. I can also tell you that your farrowing technician is craving knowledge on how to improve and why what they do is essential. Farming and passion cannot always be learned from a screen, but the older generation can transcend it through their time and passion.
And this is where I will leave my reflections for now. Please join me on this journey and share your perspectives and stories, and let’s reignite the passion for agriculture like you only can.
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