Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Brandi Buzzard Frobose, and do not necessarily represent the views of Drovers or Farm Journal.
Fair Oaks Farms, a progressive dairy, pork and crop farm in northwest Indiana, was recently the subject of some less than savory media attention. Four employees, three of whom had already been fired by the time the footage surfaced, were seen committing heinous acts of animal abuse, with zero remorse for their actions. As the video made its way across social media and television news, the perpetrators were condemned, cussed and pursued by law enforcement. Rightfully so, because animal abuse is taken very seriously by the agriculture community and should not be tolerated, ever.
However, as Fair Oaks Farms reeled from the unexpected blow and struggled to recover, another vein of hateful, sinister commentary was making its way across the Internet. Can you guess what it was?
If you said criticism of “Big Ag,” ding, ding — you win! Except not really, because when big farms and small farms quarrel, no one wins … except PETA, HSUS and other animal rights extremists.
Before we go further, let me say this: big is not bad. Small is not bad. Bad is bad. Again, for those in the back, bad behavior is bad for the ag sector, regardless of whether it stems from a 1,000 head dairy or a chicken farm with 20 birds.
When the blame for animal abuse is taken off the abusers and placed on the farm owners, our customers — aka grocery shoppers — see this and take it as a truth. They perceive that big farms must be bad because they are larger and, generally, have more employees than just one or two family members. They start to distrust the grocery store and any farmer they can’t see face-to-face, which for local food markets is great. But for the agriculture community in general, is severely detrimental.
Now, let me stop those who are fixing to throw me into the flames. The vehemence is not one-sided. Because for every vitriolic sneer directed towards large farms and ranches, there is an equal and opposite reaction directed at their smaller cousins; more often than not in the form of “hobby farm.” This line of criticism is just as harmful as its counterpart and also lends to distrust of farmers, ranchers and food. Circling the wagons and firing inwards is a waste of time, passion and ammo, folks.
In case you aren’t a statistics lover like myself, I’d love to share some data with you. There are about 330 million people in the United States, and despite what your local news station may tell you, we all do have something in common. We need to eat – emphasis on need. And some choose to only eat what we can grow. No doubt this involves a lot of planning, dedication and, to a certain extent, sacrifice in order to provide 365 days of sustenance from one or two seasons of growing and harvesting. However, those that engage is a self-sustaining lifestyle do so with the belief that they are doing their best for their family, in which they are totally rightful and should be applauded. I truly respect those who can live completely off the land and are content to eat seasonally.
On the other hand ... read page 2 for more.