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What Agriculture Could Learn From the YMCA

The thought came to me while I was walking on the treadmill.

As I walked, I looked around the exercise room at my local YMCA. The room offered a variety of equipment: treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, stair steppers, rowers, and some machines I don’t know the names of. There were weight machines and equipment that concentrate the workout on your lower body, upper body, or waistline.

The people in the room were as varied as the equipment: teenagers, senior citizens, and every age in between. Some people were sporting the latest athletic wear, complete with matching shoes. Others were wearing jeans and looked like they’d just walked in off the street. 

What didn’t I see or hear? Anyone criticizing a person in that room. In fact, I never heard criticism in the exercise room.

I never heard comments that someone should be working out differently, should be wearing something different, shouldn’t be doing a specific exercise, or was doing it wrong. The same was true for my Zumba class. Everyone in the class did the workout that works for them, modifying it depending on their abilities, and no one criticized or suggested anything different.

Why can’t we be like that in agriculture?

For a group that’s less than 2% of the population and closing in on 1%, we seem to spend a lot of time criticizing each other, pointing fingers, and choosing sides. When we should be supporting each other in our efforts.  

You want to grow pigs on the ground? Great, grow pigs the way that works for you, your land, your market. I may choose to grow them inside a building, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less committed to the environment, caring of the animals, or less of a farmer.  

You grow 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 acres of crops on the family farm? Congratulations! If I took the time to hear your farm’s story, I’d learn you started farming on ½ an acre 50 years ago and the farm has grown over the years to the size it is.  Despite your size – or actually because of it – multiple generations of your family make a living working on the farm.

Farmers may use manmade fertilizers and pesticides and plant GMO seeds. That doesn’t make them any less concerned about the environment than farmers who don’t.  

You grow hydroponic greens inside a storage container that sits in your backyard? I bet food safety is just as important to you as the farmer growing tomatoes in a greenhouse or in the field.

In an industry shrinking in numbers, why can’t we spend our time and energy supporting fellow farmers who are growing food and fiber in a manner that works for their family, their land, and their market? It’s no wonder consumers are confused about food choices and farming when we, as an overall industry, seem to be confused, at times, ourselves.

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