Grandin: Farmers need to be bolder
In an age of political-correctness overload, it’s down-right hypnotic to hear someone speak without filter or fear. But then again, Temple Grandin has always been a trail-blazer.
A designer of livestock handling facilities and a Colorado State University Professor of Animal Science, Grandin has long been recognized as an expert by livestock farmers and meat processing folks; but it was the HBO movie about her life, starring Claire Danes, that made her a celebrity with consumers.
She uses her international fame to do a job that makes others shudder in their cowboy boots; no, I’m not talking about bull castration, pig wrangling or heavy-lifting (she does those, too, no doubt). What Temple advocates is, (deep breath!) speaking out. Speak up! Step Forward! Be Bold! Share! Temple says farmers need to get better at that, because the good news of farming is being hijacked by fear-mongers who have a “bone to pick” with progress.
Grandin spoke to Iowa farmers at the 94th Iowa Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. Her progressive, “straight talk” keynote was delivered like a shot across the bough of a battleship; more than 1,000 Iowa farmers sat in rapt attention as she talked about the public’s thirst for farming knowledge. “I talked to one student at the University of Colorado Boulder that thought if beef cattle went to Whole Foods they were born on pasture and if they went to Safeway or Kroger or someplace like that, they were born in a feed yard. I explained to them that, no, beef cattle are born in a feed yard. The most basic things people just don’t know. It’s kind of appalling,” said Grandin.
Grandin says the majority of farmers and consumers she talks to are receptive. “The public is who we need to be talking to. Because one of the big problems we’ve got today is the Internet increases the voice of radicals. I don’t care what the issue is: if you’ve got a big, fat mouth, you can make a big huge splash on the Internet. Well, the people that we need to be communicating with are the people in the middle, the public.”
She acknowledged that while there are things the public needs to learn about farming, there are also certain things that are harder for them to embrace because sometimes the scale and innovation of farming and food production surprises consumers. “But, they need to know that big isn’t bad. Small isn’t necessarily good.”
But, the true message we all need to embrace is the need for being there to answer questions, share a story, listen to consumers and provide choices. Speaking out is actually easy, once you get started. Whether it’s done through fun channels or simply taking a little extra time to chat about where bacon comes from while you’re in the check-out aisle at the grocery store; the stage is yours. You don’t have to be a celebrity. You don’t need a college degree. You just need passion. And that, my friends, is one thing today’s responsible Iowa farmers have, in spades. Now, wouldn’t Temple be proud?
Laurie Johns is public relations manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.