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Women In Ag: Are Storybooks Just Stories?

I read a bedtime story to my 4-year old son every night. Many of his books are about farms, and I’ve started noticing that many of the farms look the same, despite the author or publishing company.  

There are four themes I see in many of his storybooks. 

1.  A farm has a red barn and all the livestock live in it.     

We have barns on our farm. They aren’t red. There aren’t any livestock living in them. They are brown and are used to cure tobacco.  

I’ve been on farms across the state and I could probably count on one hand the number that had a red barn reminiscent of what is featured in my son’s storybooks. I actually see more white barns, which, in my state, are a sign the farm is – or was – a dairy.  

Maybe red barns are common in other parts of the country, but they aren't in my corner of the world.  

2.  A farm has one cow, one pig, one horse, and a chicken. 

Yes, there are farms today that have this exact lineup of animals. There are also farms with only pigs or just cattle. There are farms with a few animals and farms with thousands. There are farms like ours, with no animals at all.

The roll call of animals on farms in many of the storybooks I see reminds me of what farms looked like when my dad was growing up – when families farmed to feed themselves and many people grew their own food. Now, with less than 2% of the population growing food for everyone else, you are less likely to find a farm that looks like those in the picture books.

3.  The pig is pink, the cow has black/brown and white spots, the horse is brown, and they all get along with the yellow chicken. 

I admit, I didn’t know pigs weren’t pink until I went to college and took Introduction to Animal Science my freshman year. There weren’t too many pigs raised in the city limits where I grew up. If I hadn’t taken agriculture classes, I might still think all pigs were pink. No offense, Miss Piggy.

I did know not all chickens were yellow, due to the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn.

My point is, there are so many different breeds of livestock that the storybooks of childhood can’t begin to represent the diversity of the livestock industry.  If you don’t believe me, check out the Oklahoma State University Breeds of Livestock website.  

4.  Farmers are men, and they wear overalls.

I have to say, in 17 years of working in the agriculture industry, I’ve only met one farmer who wore overalls. Don’t get me wrong, I like overalls, but they aren’t the fashion choice of all farmers.

Only one of my son’s stories features a woman farmer. It’s published by Usborne, a British company, which makes me wonder if there are more women farmers in Europe. In case you were wondering, she does not wear overalls.

These four themes are accurate for some farms but not all farms. If you don’t believe these stories have an effect on kids’s perceptions of a farm, think again. I coordinate a kid’s art contest, and every year I say I’m going to keep count of how many entries have a red barn. It’s well over 1,000 every year.  

What themes do you see in the storybooks you read to your children, grandchildren, or any child that don’t – or that do – represent your farm?

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