People have an image in their head of what they want certain things to look like. An image of vacation to one may be skiing on the mountain and to another it’s sitting on the beach. Some people’s image of the perfect meal is steak, red potatoes and asparagus with a nice red wine, while others is pizza and a Bud Light. Neither of these images are right, nor are they wrong – they’re just different.
So, why is there an expected and perceived perfect image of farming? Some farmers have huge farms with multiple locations. Some farm just a few acres by their homes. Some farmers involved in animal ag production have huge facilities. Some farmers are totally organic. Some farmers grow one crop, while others have several crops. Which of these images are correct? We would argue, that there is no one perfect image of agriculture. We would also argue, that we don’t want one. We want choices. We want choices of where we go on vacation and choices on what we have for dinner.
Who Defines That Image?
There is a romantic image of agriculture that companies are trying to, and successfully leverage. The image of “back to the way we used to do it” farming methods make people feel good. In reality, it’s damaging to farmers and ranchers when there are consumers who believe that the old romantic image is the way that agriculture needs to revert back to. It’s additionally harmful when powerful and trendy companies are bolstering that romantic image while attacking all other relevant and realistic images of agriculture.
Chipolte has produced what they call, “an original comedy series” named “Farmed and Dangerous” which is a follow-up to their “Scarecrow” campaign. It continues on with the story from a corporate farmers perspective and how Big Ag responds to criticism, yet they continue their unsustainable way of producing and marketing food. The image they are perpetuating is that farmers are large, corporate entities who have no moral backbone, and just sit around in suits in big offices. It also goes on to condemn the progressiveness of today’s food producer while making fun of the fact that farmers are now starting to work to protect their image – individually as a farm, and as an overall industry.
Paying close attention to how others are leading the way in defining their own romantic image of what they believe food production should look like, will help those actually involved in agriculture be better at telling their stories and shaping a realistic and authentic image. Yes, watching these videos might help their analytics and reach a little bit, but it’s your choice as to where you buy your super-sized burritos. (Hint: Qdoba)
The Image of Sustainability
There are many non-farm people that are uncomfortable and don’t understand when they see different images of today’s farmer or rancher. The images of expensive machinery, people in slacks and Polo’s, huge facilities, nice offices, and science-based research programs being run on the farm, are not as romantic as the image of the guy in overalls and a pitch-fork. That image of all the “big, expensive, science-y stuff” to consumers represents corporate farming, large profits, a disconnect from the land, and an unsustainable and unethical farming operation. Understanding what’s actually going on in these images equates to progress, efficiency, better farmers, and being able to farm year after year – which yes, also requires a profit. It’s not a wrong image, it’s just a narrative that needs to be told by the people living it.
What about the millions of dollars that went into producing and promoting this “entertaining comedy” about factory farmers being unethical, money hungry corporate-types who are unsustainable? What else could the corporate burrito factory have done to be progressive in their sustainability efforts? Could they also find a more sustainable way to make and sell over-sized stuffed burritos without insulting an alternative option?
Perhaps they could vertically integrate where they farm their own ingredients how they want, locally, by cities they have a stores in. Another option would be to support organic and urban farming research to develop ways to increase yields and find ways to grow in non-traditional growing regions and seasons. They could start a scholarship fund for their employees to go to collage and get a better understanding of agriculture and how food production works.
A huge part of our sustainability efforts have included expanding so we grow potatoes where our customers are, doing continuous research for non-traditional growing situations, and encouraging continual education and training. We have been able to do this, without insulting others.
None of that is happening, that Chipolte talks about. However, it looks like they threw an epic premier and launch party that they proudly showed off on Facebook.
Support What You’re Into
When a ginormous burrito making factory entertains their customers, who don’t have a clear and accurate image of what agriculture is, at the expense of farmers with crazy, disrespectful, critical, harmfully misguided messages for entertainment purposes, it’s hard not to get defensive.
There is not one perfect image of agriculture. There is not one perfect image of what everyone should eat. There’s not one perfect image of a burrito shop. People have a right to eat what they want and support how they want it to be produced – it’s a choice, and they support it every time they decide to purchase something.
The Black Gold Farms image is completely different from other farms. It’s different then the potato grower down the road. It’s different than our friends who have animals. It’s different from our neighbors who only grow organic produce. Because of these differences, people are able to have options. There is no right or wrong option and there is no right or wrong image. So, as food producers, we have to keep celebrating these different images.
Our CEO in the corner office wearing a suit* will be happy to tell you anything anyone wants to know about what we do and why we do it. He’s not big on creating one perfect, definite image. He just wants to grow potatoes, and to make sure we are able to do it for years to come.
* His suit = Pants from Wal-Mart and a Polo from 1995. He also probably needs a haircut. But, the coffee pot will be on.