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Women in Ag: How Would You Answer This Question?

Are cotton plants green?

How can I grow cotton at home?

Is cotton used to make my jeans?

What is cotton seed used for?

How is cotton harvested?

During the North Carolina State Fair, I worked the Got to Be NC tent. In the middle of the tent, there were raised beds with cotton, corn, soybean, and grain sorghum plants. 

While working, I answered each of the questions above. Some of the consumers I spoke with had never seen cotton plants before. Some had.

It would be easy for me to be critical of the people who asked these questions. We live in a state where agriculture is the number one industry. We rank fourth in the nation in cotton production. Cotton harvest is going on right now.  Why don’t they know this stuff?

Then it hit me.  

I was that person.

I didn’t grow up on a farm. My dad did, but by the time I was old enough to know anything, they were no longer farming. I grew up in a rural county where cotton and peanuts were king, so I knew what those crops looked like.  But I’m pretty sure I didn’t know that cows eat cottonseed, that denim is a fabric made of cotton, or that I couldn’t buy cotton seeds at the local hardware store.

Does not knowing that make me ignorant? No.

Stupid? No.

Disconnected? Yes, along with the majority of our country’s population.

How did I learn about cotton and other crops and livestock? I asked farmers. (I also got a degree in animal science, worked in Cooperative Extension, married a farmer, and now work for the State Department of Agriculture, but not everyone is going to go to that extreme to learn about agriculture.)

We as farmers have a choice when consumers ask a question. We can be thankful they are asking the actual people who grow food and fiber crops and animals. We can listen to their questions and respond honestly. We can be the face that consumer sees the next time they put on a pair of jeans or notices cotton growing in a field. 

Or, we can belittle them for not knowing, give a short or inaccurate answer, and pat ourselves on the back for putting that disconnected consumer in their place. A consumer that will very likely turn to the internet the next time they have an agriculture question.

I said earlier that I was that disconnected consumer. You know what? I still am. And so are you.

I can tell you about the crops we grow on our farm in eastern North Carolina. I can’t tell you how the same crops are grown on farms in other parts of the state or country. I can’t tell you about cherry, almond, or rice production because we don’t grow those crops on my farm or even in my state.  I have worked in the livestock industry, but not in almost 10 years, so my knowledge is outdated.

I know about our farm and those I get to visit, but that does not make me an expert. My guess is you aren’t an expert in all things agriculture either.

Where do I go if I have questions about agriculture? I go to farmers. 

If I ask you a question about the crops you grow or the animals you raise, how will you respond? Pause before you answer. It just may affect the way I think about farming and farmers.

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