My father was always full of great advice – actually he still is. He understands that people’s opinion of you, while not the most important thing in the world, do go a long way in either making or breaking any future opportunity you may stumble upon. One of his most common nuggets of advice for me when growing up was, “you are known by the company you keep.” Simply put, associate yourself with great people and you will go far in life. Because, as my father also frequently reminded me, “it’s not what you know but who you know.”
That advice rang clear Thursday morning as I read a column that a local meat processor and retailer paid to have printed in our local newspaper. The column was authored by a man that raised and sold organic bison meat through this meat retailer and sang the praises of organic, straight-from-the-farm meat, while simultaneously berating and condemning “factory farm,” commercially processed meat that was akin to poison and would be the death of all man kind. He warned readers that if they did not know the exact path the meat took from the farm to the grocery store shelf, they absolutely should not trust the meat and grocery store chain. The icing on the cake was his association of “pink slime” to the large, commercial meat packers.
The column left me furious. My husband and I send about a half-dozen animals to this business owner to process and package for us to sell to family and friends. We are most certainly not one of his larger customers, but we have been supportive of his business for years. The owner knows not only my parents by my husband’s family. We recommend his processing plant to friends and purchase products from his retail store. But in addition to being one of his customers, we are also one of millions of cattle owners across the country that send their cattle to the large, commercial feedlots and process them at the national beef processing companies that the column in our newspaper chastised. When the columnist insulted grocery store beef, he was talking about my husband and I. We work hard every day of the year to ensure that consumers have access to safe, health and nutritional beef at their grocery stores and local markets. We believe that is important and it’s our passion.
Needless to say, I wanted answers. I handed the newspaper to my husband, who happened to be planning a visit to the meat retailer to pick up some of our beef that was in cold storage. I questioned whether he would end up saying anything to the owner but after a phone call telling me he was headed home not with the 25 pounds we had planned to pick up but all 300-some pounds of beef we had in storage at the business, I knew words had been exchanged.
When my husband confronted the business owner about his decision to print the column berating commercial beef and commercial beef producers, the owner claimed that it wasn’t his column. While he was correct on that point, what he had forgotten was the advice my father always dispensed, you are known by the company you keep. When you chose to put your name beside someone else’s opinions, you are making them your own.
As a result of the column, we are no longer customers of the local meat processor and retailer. We will send our beef and business elsewhere. The whole situation is sad because I wholeheartedly believe in supporting local business. And while I understand that he is simply trying to promote buying local, I don’t believe he needed to berate commercial beef processors while doing so. There are consumers for both and enough dollars to go around. Because we send a majority of our animals to commercial processors, we can afford to have a few animals each year processed and sold locally. Regardless of whether our animals end up at the processor down the road or five counties away, all of the beef we produce is healthy, safe and entirely delicious.
I learned two important lessons from our adventures Thursday. The first, and most important, is that you must understand that you have to be ready to defend and take responsibility for everyone you associate yourself with and everything you say or author. You are known by the company you keep and in today’s world, emails, texts and Facebook messages don’t disappear. When a business owner publishes a customer’s opinions, they become his opinions.
Second, when you find something you don’t agree with, do something about it. It could be as simple as a phone call or email. Or it could require a complete change in buying habits and a dissolution of a relationship. Ignoring the problem and assuming someone else will say something is not a solution. Stand your ground and make your voice heard.