Let me set the record straight

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winter sunset
The winter sun sets over the farm. (Courtsey of Blue Heron Farms)

I’m getting whiplash keeping up with the narratives in agriculture these days.

On one hand, farmers are misunderstood. We are the salt of the earth, doing God’s work, day in and day out, only for fancy city folk and entitled suburbanites to go off and eat uber-processed fake meat out of spite. We’re overworked, underappreciated and hemorrhaging money and resources, because commodity markets are fluctuating and oat milk is popular. Farms are shutting down, left and right. Woe is the farmer.

On the other hand, heaven forbid Farm and Dairy publish a story that might raise questions about the impact of the region’s oil and gas exploration. We can’t publish that, we’re told, because shale gas made farmers millionaires. They’re doing better than ever. When the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP, comes up, I see complaints about farmers not getting enough or certain groups yelling about being cut out. Funny. Those payments helped pay for a portion of new perimeter fencing we wouldn’t have been able to afford in a “normal” year. And we’re just lowly sheep farmers.

Just like you

So, which is it? Which agriculture should we cover? Some may not believe it, but we get a lot of positive feedback. Farm and Dairy has a high level of reader engagement, and folks are always getting in touch. At the same time, I’m aware there are those who think the newspaper is run by a bunch of liberals these days, namely me. If you take time to read my columns, you know I am open about where I stand. I have a lot of influences in my life, and they’ve shaped who I am. If you think you know what I think about issues, you probably don’t.

I don’t expect to please everyone. That would be impossible. It doesn’t change that I am a farmer. It’s a large farm, with a lot going on. It was where I made money as a teenager, where I learned how to run a small business — and, now, it’s where I am working hard to help my family figure what the future looks like. We’ve got plans. They’re exciting and terrifying, and I hope they are a way to ensure that this piece of land continues to give back to the community and the region in a meaningful way.

I’m not some armchair quarterback. I live this stuff. Some of my ancestors traveled historic U.S. Route 40 and settled in western Pennsylvania about 200 years ago. Even if I wasn’t born in the region, I do have roots.

Moderation

I’ll admit: microgreens are somewhat life changing. I’m a bit crunchy like that. But I’m not sitting around hoping we become some iteration of a small-scale, get-rid-of-every-corn-field agricultural model. Even though our sheep spend 90% of their time outside foraging, we supplement with a corn and soy-based grain mix during flushing, lactation and market finishing. It’s a sensible, economical feed source.

I believe moderation is the key, not wholesale change overnight one way or another, to fit a narrative that makes us feel better.

It seems silly to have to write these things — in some cases, again — but I’ve noticed nuance and diplomacy seem to be in short supply these days. As much as I’d like to discuss larger ag issues, I find my columns of late focusing on other things out of necessity.

So, let me be clear: Farm and Dairy is the agricultural newspaper of record in the region. Those of us who work here are proud of that standing, we love agriculture and we will continue to cover it with professionalism and an eye for stories that impact us all.

I’ve written about wanting to build bridges to people with our coverage. As editor, I am also going to ask questions. I am going to encourage my reporters to ask questions. We are not going to accept that just because it’s related to agriculture that it must be good. At the same time, we are not going to accept that just because it’s related to agriculture, it must be bad.

Farmers are some of the best people I’ve ever met. That goes for lots of folks in agriculture, regardless of where they fall ideologically. There is something about people who are used to getting their hands dirty and cultivating something out of nothing. We make decisions that have to do with life or death, literally. We are not medical doctors, but in some ways, we are. We are a lot of things, any given day.

I know, because I’ve been there. I have had to make critical editorial decisions and face a life-altering dilemma on the farm the next minute. I’ve felt like I’ve reached the end of my rope, only to have to scrap and claw for one more inch. Don’t mistake that for a complaint. That’s solidarity. I get it.

No free pass

That doesn’t mean we farmers get a free pass. Not only do we have to be medical doctors and manual laborers, we have to be business people and entrepreneurs. We need to be willing to be evaluated — and, maybe, admit we weren’t right — to get better at what we do.

I have a wonderful team here. I have folks who have a wealth of institutional knowledge. I have reporters who are skilled, dedicated and passionate. Who are farming and whose families are in many of the same agriculture-adjacent professions you are. They are not reporting on agriculture from afar. They’re reporting on issues that affect them and their neighbors.

Someone recently wrote to complain about a writer. This was part of my response: “It is unfortunate that we have reached a time when uncomfortable topics are not allowed in our spaces, and, if they are addressed, folks resort to casting aspersions against the writer of the story, rather than debating the merits of the topic itself. Current events being as they are, folks in agriculture can ill afford to turn a blind eye to what’s going on around them. We will continue to examine issues as they arise, because they are important for all of us to understand.”

Agricultural, rural and food policy reporting is the topic du jour, apparently. Farm and Dairy holds a unique position in the middle of that. It’s because of the team we have — we are people who care, who live what we’re reporting on. We’re not going anywhere, and we’ve got work to do.

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Farm and Dairy Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Miller was tapped to lead the newsroom in 2019. A veteran journalist, dog wrangler and traveler, she lives on a 220-acre, 325-ewe commercial sheep farm in Lisbon, Ohio, which she runs in partnership with her mother. She can be reached at 330-817-6179 or editor@farmanddairy.com.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Rebecca Miller for setting the record straight. I have made up my mind now. I will go ahead and let my subscription run out for good after 20 plus years. Maybe you could cancel it early since I foolishly renewed for 3 yrs and must wait until 2022. Maybe you could refund the last year. I am just a moron with WHITE PRIVELAGE as Rachel Wagoner informed me when I came in at midnight, after wrapping hay and glanced over F&D. Ever since then whenever I started wondering if an article seemed a little off who wrote it. I look back and its wagoner. Now I read this column for the first time and you give me the finger.

    • Hi Steven, it sounds like you’ve had concerns for while. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You are always welcome to call and further discuss anything you’ve read in the paper. I am always open to hearing from readers. I can be reached at 330-337-3419, ext. 226, or, directly, at 330-817-6179.

  2. In a time of extreme partisanship, it’s more important than ever to have a news source that is open-minded and willing to put out all the information for their readers to consume. A lot of people are railing against “cancel culture”, but are quick to throw a tantrum when they don’t agree with something or doesn’t align with their beliefs. I commend the F&D’s efforts to cover all aspects of agriculture. Just like any family; you’ll have agreements/disagreements and praise/scolding, but in the end, we’re all in this together and we eat from the same table.

  3. I appreciate every word I read in Farm and Dairy. It is so much better than being in an echo chamber! Keep it up.

  4. I grew up in a steel town in Pennsylvania, but I know many of my ancestors were farmers in West Virginia and southern Ohio. I enjoy reading Farm and Dairy because I learn about the complexities of farm life, and how demanding it is to live that life. I learn about concerns I didn’t have a clue I should be concerned about and I am provided with information that increases my ability to make more responsible decisions. So as a steel town girl from Aliquippa, PA who has been transplanted (no pun intended) to Columbiana County via time spent living in West Virginia, I say thank you to Farm and Dairy from a person with a different perspective. Even if people get tensed up about what you have written, and they tell you about it, you know you have them thinking!

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