Not long ago I listened to a group of farmers discussing the problem of livestock agriculture getting a series of media "black eyes." As one might expect, the discussion resulted in clear no-nonsense consensus that something must be done. However, a less visible second outcome also became apparent. It seems that many in the agriculture community feel that agriculture is under siege. This sentiment is alarming to me, because as any former army trooper can attest, sieges are messy things. This is not to say that agriculture hasn���t taken more than its share of low blows in recent memory, or that some sectors within agriculture, and even some local farmers, haven���t taken it on the chin. One need only to look to Schuyler County���s most recent livestock burglary case to see that agriculture issues are increasingly becoming contentious, complex, and newsworthy. But is agriculture under siege? In a siege, nobody escapes untouched, and the casualties run high. Let us hope our important agricultural communities are not under siege. Rather, let us consider the possibility that agriculture, collectively, is being challenged, and that agriculture is up to the task. More importantly, let us join as communities to give our farmers sanctuary.
In rising to the challenge, agriculture, broadly speaking, must remember its collective competitive and comparative advantages as an industry and avoid internal fragmentation or being divided and conquered by those who would seek to gain by pitting one camp under the "Ag tent" against another. Who else can lay claim to such a market in terms of demand, where 100% of the population is a food consumer? The challenge for agriculture is to get away from the "Agriculture Under Siege" mentality, a reactive stance, while developing a more proactive self-image that emphasizes the agriculture community���s critical role as the provider of the safest, most secure and abundant food supply the world has ever known.
Rather than think of agriculture as an industry under attack, and I am not na簿ve to the realities of what is happening to farmers and the industry, our local agriculture businesses must capitalize on what they are, and what the public in fact wants them to be. They are farmers, or they support farmers. Family farmers who live on farms; bucolic, country havens of humans striving to live in harmony with nature. Farms that are indeed sanctuaries, not in name only or because they "rescue" the odd sick pig or lamb, but because they are where the animals are, where the soil is, where the tears and the toil translate into good food. Yes, the farm is a sanctuary. Sanctuary implies holiness, and that is appropriate because food is sacred, and its production is salvation. Land is sacred too, and farmers are stewards of the good green earth.
In today���s industrialized, technical, urbanized, rush-rush world of abstractions, the simple reality of the farm is the key. The farm is a powerful symbol, a comfort and an elixir for the fears of our edgy techno citizens. The symbol of the farm must not be hijacked by extremists who promote scientifically sketchy theories or who hold narrow philosophical views shared by only a minority. The phrase "Factory Farm" must be studied. Is it accurate? Oxymoronic? Appropriate? Whatever the verdict, we can agree that a successful farm is often a "Family Farm." A "Family Farm" should be the phrase we use, and it should be our symbol, our banner. With this in mind, it is important to safeguard the family farm, and protect whatever lies within its borders from those who would attempt to undermine or sabotage the efforts of farmers to continue producing our food. Equally important is the acknowledgment by farmers of their environmental responsibilities, and their continuing commitment to refining methods to leave our Finger Lakes farms better than we found them, for the next generation of producers and consumers, and for the creatures that share our fields and pastures.
A farmer is a symbol of strength, of security, of hard work, of the realization of dreams, of patience and perseverance, and of family values. These are the most American of ideals, and in our current state of heightened security and threat analysis, farmers and their farms have a unique opportunity to re-establish themselves as the every day heroes of food security. America���s quality farms, our farms right here in the Finger Lakes, and our committed farmers, are the best in the world, quietly and resolutely serving as The Vanguard of America���s Security. That is American agriculture's most powerful and positive message to the rest of America, and to the world. It bears repeating, our farms are sanctuaries. Let us think twice about allowing them to be defiled, or worse, disappear.