What do you know about a farmer? Do you know how many vacation days he took last year? Do you know what she worries about when she can’t sleep at night? Do you know how much education he has? Or how many different jobs she juggles in a single workday?
If you’re like me, chances are you don’t know much about farm life. Even though I grew up in the country, I’ve never had much exposure to professional farmers—just hobbyists like my parents, who raised chickens and horses and tomatoes. I’ve always had a romanticized view of farming: a simple life, deeply connected to the earth and largely disconnected from the cares of “city folk.”
As it turns out, my ideas were largely wrong. (That happens sometimes.)
Thanks to an opportunity provided by Missouri Women Bloggers and the Missouri Farm Bureau, I experienced farming up close and personal yesterday. I toured three farms owned by the Moreland, Roth and Kurzweil families of Harrisonville, MO. I expected the cute animals. I expected the big tractors and the hum of a well-oiled operation. What I didn’t expect was to be so incredibly impressed by the farmers themselves. They were awesome—open, honest, eloquent and a whole lot of fun.
Here are just a few things I learned about farmers:
They are passionate about their work. They wouldn’t do it otherwise. It’s too hard, too risky, too all-consuming. They farm because they are called to the land and to the important work of feeding an ever-growing population. This isn’t a default job for them. (“Well, Dad farmed, so I guess I will, too.”) No, they choose this work for themselves and it’s evident that they love what they do.
They are extreme innovators. You can read all the business books you want. Listen to TED talks every day. Hang out with all the cool kids in your local startup scene. But if you really want to see innovation in action, go spend time with a farmer. These guys are constantly re-inventing their businesses, trying new methods and technologies to maximize quality and productivity while driving down costs (for themselves and for us as consumers). Farmers were using the Lean Startup method way before it had a name. They are constantly testing, testing, testing to make incremental improvements. They’re also doing some crazy cool stuff with technology—GPS, robotics, data analytics, automation. Don’t let the blue jeans fool you. Farmers are extremely advanced on the tech-savvy scale.
They are smarter than the average bear. The farmers we met have an incredible depth of knowledge about their profession and the intricacies of their businesses. They know their animals, equipment, seed, feed, water sources, profit margins, risk factors, market variables, regulatory changes…anything you could think to ask about, they’ll have a ready answer. This knowledge doesn’t collect dust on a shelf, either. Farmers put their knowledge to use every day, making informed decisions about where and how far to pivot. I’m not suggesting that every move they make is correct—they all shared stories of near-disastrous decisions—but they’re not just going where the wind blows, either. Farmers analyze the data, assess the opportunity and make smart choices to move their business forward. Any budding entrepreneur could take a page out of their book.
They are good human beings. Beyond all the smarts and savvy, the farmers on our tour impressed me with their kindness, gentleness and humility. They seem to have a tremendous sense of responsibility to the land, to their animals, to their employees, and to the people who use and consume their products. They have an intense focus on quality and safety, and they go out of their way to make sure their animals are comfortable, calm, well nourished and kindly treated. These are good people. You sense that about them immediately, and you want to spend time with them because they make you feel a little better about yourself.
I’ll tell you, my experience yesterday did not make me want to run off and become a farmer. Frankly, I’m not sure I have it in me. But the farm tour did leave me with an incredible sense of respect and gratitude for the people who tend the earth and make our food. Farming is not a glamorous profession, but I can’t think of too many jobs that are more important, and I’m glad to know three farming families that are truly doing it right.
Many thanks to the Morelands, Roths and Kurzweils for sharing their day with us and to the Missouri Farm Bureau for organizing the tours and driving us all over God’s country. It was awesome.