DENNISON, Ohio — With some county fairs already under way and many more to come, now is the time to prepare everyone involved for encounters with those who may not understand animal agriculture.
On June 30, fair board members, exhibitors and county officials from at least four Ohio counties gathered at the Mystic Tie facility in Dennison to prepare for encounters they could face during the upcoming fair season.
Dave White, of Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Center for Food and Animal Issues, said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and advised youth and their mentors on how to get ready now.
If exhibitors are asked questions about their projects by activists, they should answer with short answers as opposed to long answers, White said.
Exhibitors should be prepared to answer why they show animals and care for them the way they do, and should not become confrontational.
Many people may simply be looking for information, White said, something exhibitors should be prepared to offer. He called upon junior fair board members who were present at the meeting, asking them why they showed livestock.
All members gave short, honest and informative answers — the kind exhibitors are advised to give.
White said it’s important to understand how the nonfarm public thinks and feels, so they can be understood and properly informed.
One perception is that “everyone who shows livestock is thought of by the public as a farmer,” White said, which means all exhibitors need to be familiar with the farm practices they represent.
Some nonfarm members believe pets and farm animals should be treated the same way. He noted several important differences to keep in mind, including the size of the animals, their behavioral patterns and the different care they require.
“How do you care for a 1,500-pound cow the same way you care for a 30-pound dog?” he asked.
While both animals should be treated humanely, he said it takes more to get the cow motivated to move than a dog, and a cow obviously cannot be picked up and transported as easily as a pet.
White also advised fair exhibitors to do as much pre-planning as possible, imagining the worst possible conflicts with activists and having solutions in mind. Local law enforcement should be on the same page as fair board members and procedures should be put in place to determine appropriate spokespeople and a course of action.
“Everyone (should) know who is responsible for what,” said Jim Rowe, a local dairy farmer who helped coordinate the event. “Now is the time to do that, not when something happens.”
The event coincidentally was held the same evening Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced a compromise agreement between Ohio farm groups and The Humane Society of The United States, combining additional animal protection standards with farm animal practices.
The compromise prevented a ballot campaign many in the agricultural sector feared would burden them throughout the summer and into the fall. But the battle to protect animal agriculture against those opposed to it, and to educate those who do not understand it, will continue.
“This is still important stuff and we need to step up … we have a great story to tell,” said Kim Davis, a state trustee for Ohio Farm Bureau.
Davis and her husband have worked with fair exhibitors for many years. She said youth should not be underestimated and are very sharp and capable of speaking up for what they do and why.
(Reporter Chris Kick can be reached at 330-403-9477, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)