I recently attended the AgChat Conference in Austin, TX and had the privilege to be on a panel with two other persons, a mom who is food writer and a local chef/restaurant owner. Then there was me, a life-long agriculturalist. While our experiences, views, and beliefs differed, I left feeling like at the end of the day we might all agree on the following message: Agriculture is important, no matter who you are or what you do – it is essential for survival!
One of the talking points that came up during the panel was a rich farmer versus a poor farmer and where the line is drawn. I have been thinking about this for several days now and I wanted to get my thoughts out.
Growing up on a ranch we had access to horses, 4-wheelers, irrigation ditches to swim and play in, fishing holes, goose and duck hunting hot spots, and acres to learn to drive manual vehicles and ranch equipment on – it was essentially a 300-acre playground! We raised 4-H animals, our own food, sewed our own clothes, and could hunt and fish. We also believed strongly in family dinners, family projects on weekends, life celebrations, and good friends and neighbors. While we played hard, we also worked hard, very hard. We fixed our own vehicles and bought new-to-us equipment. We didn’t watch much tv, play video games, go out to dinner, or go on many vacations. In high school I could arm wrestle and beat the first-string football players and I could certainly hold my own in the weight room; all of the bale bucking and good ol fashioned hard work made me tough 🙂
I thought my childhood was awesome!
At no time did I ever think my family was rich. Monetarily rich that is. Wealth isn’t necessarily measured in number of cows, acres, or amount of equipment owned. We were rich in our knowledge, skills, work ethic, family legacy (my sister and I are the 4th generation), family and community love and support, and so much more.
I was my class Salutatorian, and was banking on the fact that good grades and some money in savings from the sale of 4-H animals would get my through college. It never dawned on me that other people thought my family was rich until I started applying for college scholarships as a high school senior. Several people wondered why I would need the scholarship money, my family was “rich ranchers” and could afford to send me to college! I was shocked that was the perception others had of my family. We weren’t (and still aren’t) fancy or rich people. But in the eyes of others my family had money, and lots of it because we had land, livestock, and various vehicles and equipment. Perception is an interesting thing…
I also never thought my family was poor. In our family, and with many others in agriculture, money is tied up in land, animals, equipment, and other assets. Ranch income was spent fixing up and/or making purchases of things that had been neglected over the past year. Because in ranching, you may only get one or two paychecks a year – when the calves and any open (non-pregnant) or crippled cows are sold! Talk about budgeting. So as a kid, and still today we knew that some months would be financially tighter than others. We also knew how to differentiate between wants and needs.
So as you can see, I struggle with the rich vs poor in agriculture. I think food production is one of the hardest professions, but also one of the most rewarding. And it doesn’t matter if you have 10 acres or 10,000 acres. The time and financial commitments, the long hours, hard work, and dedication are all similar concepts just on different scales. There are certainly those who are rich in agriculture, and kudos to them for making a profit with their livelihoods. But does that mean a person who may not have much money in agriculture is poor? Not necessarily, they could be rich like my family – rich with all of things that are hard to touch, see, and measure. You see I always thought my family was rich…
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