Bravo to the Pennsylvania farm community!
Bravo for creating a way for nonfarm consumers to see what’s behind the barn doors, to learn about real-world farming practices.
Bravo for having the guts to put caged laying hens, and veal calf pens, and a sow in a farrowing crate out for the world to see.
Bravo for having the backbone to tackle animal welfare conversations on a public stage like the Pennsylvania Farm Show. And bravo for not apologizing about modern agricultural practices.
The new “Today’s Agriculture” exhibit put it all out there. It was a massive undertaking — we’re talking a specially designed barn and live animals and dirt and feed bins and live soybean and corn plants and a huge combine. And people to tell the story 10 hours a day while the show was open. People who know how to answer questions like why you take a young dairy calf from her mother.
Of course, animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals disagree with me, and told at least one reporter with the York Dispatch the exhibit didn’t show true “factory farm” practices like pregnant sow gestation crates.
Farmers are trying to use the best care in raising their livestock. Practices are constantly being re-evaluated, and research into better methods is continually being brought back to the farm. But if we don’t tell the public about it, who will?
You know who will. People with the mindset that it’s OK to commit arson. And you’re all living with the outcome of the extreme, and the not-so-extreme attacks against agriculture.
“It’s in our best interest” to open the barn doors,” Warren County (Pa.) dairyman Sheryl Vanco told me last week, as we sat near the exhibit. “It’s because they (nonfarm residents) don’t understand, they don’t know.”
Ignorance doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you don’t know what you don’t know. Consumers aren’t stupid, they just have never met you. They don’t know you. They don’t know what you do. They don’t know why you do what you do.
And you know what? You don’t talk to them very often, either. You were OK with that, until it came back to bite you — and you started whining that “they have no clue.” Well, duh.
Even in rural areas, many residents don’t understand farm practices.
That’s why it takes a village to undertake an exhibit of this nature. There were some farm groups who shied away from the edgy nature of showing the livestock in their barn environments, but for the most part, the ag community responded to the planning with open arms and open checkbooks.
People simply want to know their food is safe, that it was raised humanely and that the farming practices didn’t hurt the environment, said Christian Herr, executive vice president of the PennAg Industries Association, which developed the concept and sold the exhibit idea to the state’s major ag players.
It’s about doing a good job and being proud of it.
So here’s to Pennsylvania agriculture. May other states follow your lead.
By Susan Crowell
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