Farmers, knock the chip off your shoulder


Six years ago, I attended a five-day reporting and writing workshop at the Poynter Institute in Florida. It was a week of reaffirmation for me — that my love of words and stringing them together was still a noble effort.

All week long, however, I battled feelings of inferiority. The class of 12 included editors from the Associated Press, and major dailies like the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Indianapolis Star, Orlando Sentinel, and Des Moines Register. Me? I was just some hick weekly newspaper editor who wrote about cows and pigs. I was intimidated by their experience, their sophistication, and their writing abilities.

Then, a funny thing happened as the seminar progressed. I witnessed my classmates’ own insecurities, flaws and uncertainties. I watched them struggle with basics. And slowly, the chip on my shoulder dissolved. I was one of them.

Farmers often harbor similar insecurities when plopped in a room with bankers or small business owners or lawyers. Too often, farmers feel like they don’t belong in that crowd, like their chosen profession is somehow less important or worthy than the others’.

“I’m just a farmer,” I hear them say.

But the farmer in that room is just as successful as the other businessmen. He’s a good manager, he improves his land with conservation measures, he provides a living for his family and plays an important role in the social fabric of the community. He’s a school board member, church elder, volunteer firefighter.

We encourage our children to do something other than farming, as if the field we’ve labored in all our lives is somehow not good enough for our kids. We don’t want them to work this hard, to sacrifice this much.

There was a time when society looked upon farmers with pride. To be “a successful farmer” meant something, and the farmer’s word carried weight in the community.

Wait a minute.

Society still looks upon farmers with goodwill, and being a successful farmer still demands respect and esteem.

We need to realize we are just as good as anyone else. Farming is art and science mixed with sweat. It is a profession that takes guts and determination, hard work and intelligence. You could be anything you want to be, but you chose to be a farmer. And that’s OK.

More than OK, even, because your job plays a vital role in feeding your family and your neighbors.

At the end of my writing seminar, we read our personal essays aloud. Someone wrote about traffic jams, another about hating Valentine’s Day. One editor wrote about her weeklong writer’s block, with the opening line, “Writing this personal essay has been the hardest thing I’ve ever been asked to write.”

Me? I wrote about farm safety, and my words validated their own right to sit at the table with editors from Cleveland and Indianapolis and Orlando and Des Moines.

I’m proud to be a farm writer. I hope you’re proud to be a farmer. You should be.


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