During the last snow adventure, I spent my time in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, where snow or ice removal is not even considered a part of an item on their metro budget. The only thing they seek to put more salt on is their specialty dishes at some very good eating places, but putting salt on their city streets is an art form not yet developed in that part of the South. I did see a Zamboni for smoothing ice at hockey games being used near CNN to clear some ice, but for the most part of my visit, the streets were in great shape for a hockey game and not driving or walking. However, being there for the 92ndAnnual Meeting of the American Farm Bureau, along with about 5,000 farmers from around the country, the storm didn’t stop any of us from getting the business accomplished of the world’s largest farm organization.
With all of the attendees being from agricultural backgrounds and full-time farmers, everyone was use to taking on dirty jobs and dealing with adversity. And, speaking of dirty jobs, the star from Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” hit show, Mike Rowe, was the final keynote speaker for the convention program’s grand finale. Who else could connect better with 5,000 farmers in a city paralyzed by ice and looking for inspiration to face a year filled with agricultural uncertainty.
Dressed in his signature baseball cap and a t-shirt that said “Safety Third,” Rowe told the group that he understood a lot what they faced each and everyday. “Our country is asking you to do more with less every single year and I see a lot of other agendas pushing at you,” Rowe told the farming delegates. “The rest of the country needs to understand what you guys do on a day-to-day basis. We are not sufficiently astounded that you guys feed [the world] every day.”
“It seems like every time I go to a farm, there’s some type of issue,” he said, recounting what happened after three farm episodes aired. In a recent news release by American Farm Bureau’s Tracy Grondine and Mace Thorton, they told about those three visits by Rowe.
On his series “Dirty Jobs,” that airs on the Discovery Channel, Rowe helped a hog farmer with an operation near Las Vegas gather leftover food from casinos, which the farmer cooked in his Rube Goldberg invention and then fed to the hogs. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote to him, concerned that the warm food was harming the animals. The Environmental Protection Agency feared gas escaping from a hose under a truck hood might be toxic when in fact it was steam.
Rowe visited a laying hen operation in Buckeye, Ariz., which he said enabled him to give an honest, fair look at caged egg production. Because “we deal with feces from every species,” Rowe used a bobcat to clean up chicken manure that accumulated below the cages. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said his skill with the bobcat ““ or lack thereof ““ had come perilously close to endangering the health of the workers at the farm.
Before a visit to a Craig, Colo., sheep ranch to assist with castrating lambs, Rowe asked the humane society about the preferred method for the procedure and was told how to use a rubber band to accomplish the task. However, he learned that the lambs recovered quickly after the rancher’s method of clipping and extracting the genitals but would be in pain for up to two days if rubber bands were used. “I saw with my own eyes that it was a kinder, gentler way to do it for the lamb,” he said of the rancher’s procedure.
That got Rowe to thinking: if these experts and agencies were wrong about what they saw on “Dirty Jobs,” what else were they wrong about?
Rowe told the delegates that they need a lot of advocates telling their story. He mentioned how viewers seemed to want more stories about being “green.” “You find a farmer and scrape off the dirt and you’ll find one of the greenest people on the planet,” he said. He went on to say he was flattered at being asked to be a spokesman for agriculture, but went on to say, “I do believe in my heart of hearts that you are your own best spokesmen.”
Telling the story of agriculture could be a “dirty job” for some, but it is a job with refreshing rewards for the consumer and our nation’s food supply.
– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org