Taking Care of our Farmers

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We have three farmers (and two farmers-in-training) on our farm right now. It’s a tough time for anyone in agriculture right now.

To say it’s a bad time to be a farmer would be an understatement the size of the grain piles dotting the Kansas landscape. During the past few years farming has become a losing proposition. Grain prices are down, international rhetoric and negotiations have killed export opportunities and a drought has made it nearly impossible to grow much of anything in many parts of Kansas. Add to that marginal profits, already tight lines of credit and a consumer base that thinks you are doing it all wrong and its enough to make anyone want to throw in the towel.

My husband recently conducted an interview with a local television station on farmer suicide and mental health. I have heard the statistics before – farming has the highest suicide rate of any profession, double that of veterans – but had never really stopped to think about the situation and its contributing factors. It’s a scary statistic and one that has only been made worse given the current political and economic climate.

(See his full interview here: http://www.ksn.com/news/local/kansas-farmer-talks-about-alarming-suicide-rate/1191543047)

When people experience thoughts of suicide or depression they are encouraged to seek help. But my guess is my farmer is a lot like other farmers, not prone to sharing his feelings or airing his struggles. He is a reflective man and often doesn’t even let me in on some of his concerns and frustrations. That mentality is hard to change but it’s literally killing our farmers.

There is so much in farming that cannot be controlled – the weather, rain, trade opportunities, markets, commodity prices, legislation and regulation and rental rates. It’s an industry that buys retail and sales wholesale. It bends to the whim of Mother Nature and commodity brokers and can be undone in the blink of an eye. Farmers don’t do it for the fame or fortune, but they are often the sole income for a family and are the fourth or fifth (maybe more) generation to farm the same land. That puts farmers in a unique but overwhelming situation when the future isn’t clear. Add to that the fact most farmers have never had another job or entertained the idea of working anywhere but on the family farm and you have professionals believing there is no where to go.

The agriculture community has awaken to the mental health crisis in its midst, and the newest version of the farm bill has funding in place to help create or grow support systems for farmers and rural workers. But nothing can change if farmers don’t start asking for help and recognizing the points of stress that can or will lead to more substantial actions and decisions on their part. These are difficult times by anyone’s standards and we must continue to remind our farmers that asking for help or admitting failure isn’t a sign of weakness but a normal reaction to really difficult times.

Where Can You Turn: Thank you to Kansas Wheat for putting together an exhaustive list of resources for both financial and mental/emotional issues as well as options for spouses and others who are dealing with depression. http://kswheat.com/news/2018/02/19/farmer-suicide-rate-is-concerning-but-resources-for-solutions-are-available

Our farm, like most in Kansas, is still alive and operational. We’re in the middle of planting soybeans and moving cattle to summer pasture. We continue to streamline costs and operations, when possible, and pray for rain every chance we get. But as the drought lingers and the politics of farming only gets more hectic, I hope my farmer and others across the country to remember to ask for help and speak up when it all gets to be too much. We love our farmers, without them we would all go hungry and naked.

 

Why All the Beef About Beef?

Owen eating cheeseburger
We enjoy beef in all forms – including the $1 cheeseburgers at McDonalds. Don’t be fooled by foodie elites, all beef is safe and nutritious.

I’ve got a beef with today’s view of beef. Too many times – and it happened again yesterday while flipping through a food magazine – I found an article telling me that hamburger from the local butcher is trustworthy and safe, but beef from the grocery story, well, maybe not.

Sure, the local butcher is probably a good guy and takes great care of his cold cuts. But so too are the men and women of Tyson, Cargill, National Beef and others that process millions of pounds of hamburger every year and do so safely and without incident.

We raise beef cows – lots of them actually – and while our end goal is a healthy animal that produces steaks people would pay $1 million for (ok, that may be excessive but we make really, really good steaks), we know that many of our animals will likely end up in your next fast food cheeseburger. And that’s ok. We just want you to enjoy beef.  Our animals are sold to large beef companies that then distribute the beef to restaurants, food service companies and grocery store chains. We keep our animals healthy and trust the companies producing the end products will likewise keep the beef fresh and safe for consumption. How do we know? Because federal inspectors are in processing facilities daily and put their seal of approval on nearly everything that goes out the door to the public.

Likewise, the neighborhood butcher is inspected and overseen by state and/or federal inspectors. What’s the difference? The butcher’s beef stays in house while the other must be transported. But that extra step does not compromise the quality or safety of the beef you pick up from Wal-Mart or Costco or enjoy at Wendy’s and Burger King.

In fact, many fast food restaurants are also getting into the game and keep a close eye on the beef they serve. Yep, even Micky D’s (https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/about-our-food/quality-food.html) As a whole, the beef industry collectively spends more than $550 million each year on testing, interventions and other safety strategies.

Thousands of ranchers, just like us, take pride in our animals and the beef we produce. We trust the companies that package and deliver that beef to your favorite bar or drive-thru and know that your $1 cheeseburger was created with the same quality beef that can be found in the corner meat market. It’s all antibiotic-free, raised on grass and loaded with 10 essential vitamins and minerals.

 

A Mothers Guide to Calving

Pairs at home
Every year a group of mother cows and their new calves reside in the pasture right outside our front door. It’s pretty neat to wake up and see the mothers eating and babies running and playing with one another.

We are about a month into our 2018 calving season and I am loving all the new faces on the farm. Our first baby calves starting arriving in early January and will continue through March. Everyone understands the basics of pregnancy and birth, but here are a few details on the who calving process I know my fellow mother friends will appreciate.

  1. Cows have the same gestational period as humans. Cows and people carry their unborn for 40 weeks or 9 months. Calves can be born early and easily survive, but if they come too early they will often suffer from undeveloped systems and fragile health. But with a little extra care and a watchful eye, these preemies usually end up just fine. A full-term calf will weigh somewhere around 70 pounds at birth, and that number jumps to about 85 pounds for a calf from a mother who has previously given birth. (Why the increase? Cows usually have their first calf at age two and will continue to grow so that they have a larger frame and more room to carry a larger calf once they hit 3 years of age.)
  2. Calves receive all nutrients from their mother. Be it in the womb or during the first months of their lives, calves subsist exclusively on the nutrients delivered through their mother’s milk. That means we, as the farmers, must provide the mother with a nutrient-dense, well-rounded diet. Because these mothers’ third trimester occurs in the late fall and winter months, when grass is more scarce, we provide supplemental hay, distillers (made from corn during the ethanol production process) and grain pellets to ensure they are receiving enough protein and carbs. We will continue them on this diet through the spring since they will need the extra calories for nursing. Just like humans, a mother cow’s milk is the only food a baby calf needs for the first six months of their life. They can and often do try to eat grass or hay during that time but their digestive systems simply are not mature enough to process those items. By the fall they will have transitioned to a diet of grass supplemented by mother’s milk. P.S. Calves are born with teeth – ouch!
  3. Birthing is a natural process, but a little help is sometimes needed. For centuries humans gave birth with little to no medical assistance. Babies were born at home with a doctor no where to be found. The same is true for cows. However, just like in humans, things don’t always go as planned. Our first time mother cows are called heifers and those ladies require the most oversight. My husband and his father will take turns checking on our heifers every four hours or so around the clock to ensure everyone is doing well. But it’s not uncommon to have to pull a calf from a mother who is struggling or is just worn out, and on the rare occasion a veterinarian will be called out to perform a c-section. A mother cow will then need to begin licking her calf clean and encouraging the calf to stand and drink. This should all happen in the first few hours after birth. If it doesn’t we will intervene.
  4. Daycare is a thing. If you drive by a pasture or field with mother cows and baby calves, you’ll often find one mother with a group of calves. No she didn’t have quadruplets, she’s just the designated babysitter for that day. Mother cows work together to watch over baby calves because the calves will initially spend most of their time sleeping or lounging in the sun. However, just like humans, a baby calf and mother will recognize one another by scent and sound. A baby knows when it’s his or her mother calling for lunch.
  5. Mothers Rock. Most of us humans would earn passing grades on mothering but I’m gonna guess that our mother cows would exceed us in parenting abilities. Remember, mother cows do not have hubbies to lean on when caring for these babies, they are on their own. But they do an amazing job of feeding cleaning and watching over their calves. They will tuck the babies away under shelter or in a hedge row when the weather gets crummy and will stand guard when prey like coyotes or wolves attempt to attack the younger members of the herd. As I noted before, the mother cows work together – that’s where we get the phrase herd mentality – to protect one another and their young. That strong maternal instinct makes our jobs so much easier and allows us to keep watch but not have to be present every moment of the day. In fact, a vast majority of our mother cows will give birth and raise their calf with little to no intervention from us. And that’s the way we prefer it. When selecting bulls and cows for our cow herd, we look for maternal instincts – yes some breeds of cattle are considered more maternal than others – strong udders and well built mother cows.

There is so much more cool stuff I could share about our mother cows but I’ll leave it at this for now. Have a question, shoot me an email or leave your questions in the comments section. I’ll be sure to follow up and address it ASAP.

5 Reasons To Love a Farmer

It’s Valentine’s Day so while it is not the only day to express my love for my Farmer, it’s a good day to remind others why it’s great to have a Farmer for a valentine. I’ll admit, being married to a farmer is never easy, but there are so many great parts of being a farm wife, living the farm life and waking up with a farmer each morning.

1. They are care takers: Before we had kids, my husband was already taking care of babies, animals and living things all around our farm. I appreciated his willingness to stay up all night with a newborn calf or slosh through mud to help a mother cow that was having trouble giving birth. He showed me early and often he knew how to care for others.

2. They drive big tractors: While the appeal of a tractor has diminished slightly over the years, the idea that my husband gets to command big trucks, huge tractors and even bigger combines is always something worth bragging about. The best part is they all come with buddy seats so there is always room for me to hitch a ride (and maybe even enjoy a date night in the field).

3. They don’t have an 8-5 gig: I always say my husband is flexible but not always available. He doesn’t report to an office and doesn’t punch a time clock which means he can get away from the farm when he needs or wants. It’s not always that simple but if there is something I want him to join me for or need him to attend to, there’s no asking the boss for vacation time.

4. They can fix anything: My husband may not be as skilled in the “fixin” department as others but he usually has the tool, trick or duct tape to jimmy rig about anything you need. The one thing he can’t do – patch the holes in his jeans or replace the buttons on his shirts. I’m guessing sewing is one skill he won’t be picking up anytime soon.

5. They have big hearts: The last but certainly not least reason I love being married to a farmer is their big hearts, kind souls and Midwest manners that make them gentleman and all around great guys. Most of my husband’s farmer friends are great husbands and fathers as well. Farmers grew up learning the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to pitch in when it’s needed. Farmers are some of the best people you’ll get a chance to meet – as long as you don’t mind a little mud on their shoes.

Want to reach more about life with a farmer hubs, check out some of these great blogs by fellow farm wives:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-dewey-rohrich/15-real-reasons-to-date-a_b_4688680.html

https://wfbf.com/blogs/nothing-like-a-farmers-love/

https://www.gracegardenandhomestead.com/how-to-love-a-farmer/

Behind the Company

As a farm wife I so often hear people talk about their love and support for farm families and local farms. The moms and dads, brothers and sisters growing wheat and hogs is exactly who they want to purchase their food from. But mention Tyson, Cargill or any company name and that love dissipates quickly.

It’s hard to love a big corporation. There’s no face, no cute kids and no great story of multiple generations working together and living on the same farmstead. But the truth is that our story is also the story of any corporate food company. The family farms, like ours, are the one responsible for growing and caring for the livestock, produce, corn and other food products that make their way to your plate via a corporate food company.

We raise beef cattle. From the time they are born until they time they are processed for beef, they are under our ownership and care (with the help of feedlot owners). Once the carcass has been processed and different cuts finalized and frozen, it’s off to the store or restaurant for consumers to enjoy.

You won’t see “Sawyer Beef” on the menu anytime soon but my husband still takes great pride in knowing that the steak at the high-end restaurant or the Big Mac you enjoyed for lunch could have come from one of the dozens of animals roaming our backyard or living somewhere on our farm.

Have faith in your food, it comes from farm families like ours. Their farm may be huge or teenier tiny, but it was very likely ran by family members dedicated to producing food and preserving the land.

Our Crazy Hectic Life

I always enjoy writing – not as much the forced, daily writing that comes with a journalism gig I once held – but the spontaneous, personal blogging that allows me to share our farm life and stories of raising crops and cattle in the heart of America.

Ironically, it seems that the same life I want to share is what prevents me from finding the time to write. But I love our life and love reading about other mom’s trials, tribulations and craziness and want to share our crazy with all of you.

First, let me explain our crazy . . . My husband is the fourth generation of his family to farm and raise cattle on our farm in Central Kansas. Right now we are in the middle of calving season, which means we will welcome a couple hundred new baby calves to our farm in the next three months. It’s a great season – who doesn’t love baby calves – but our mommas cows require a watchful eye and helping hand when things aren’t going right or the weather is not ideal for a fresh, wet baby calf to hit the ground. For almost two months, my husband and his father will take turns checking on the animal. That means he’s up every two to four hours morning, noon and night (not unlike a mother of a newborn). The cows take priority because their well being and livelihood is his top priority.

During other times of the year, planting, harvest and animal care keep my husband at the farm 60 – 80 hours a week. His job has never been 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. and it sure doesn’t allow for weekends and holidays off. There are days I just want him home, but it’s not that easy. He’s the boss and the one responsible for it all at the end of the day so when work needs done, he’s the one to do it. This farm is our future and its our hope that this is here for our boys to return home to one day.

Then there’s my job. I have a great position as a District Director for our U.S. Congressman. I love my job and the responsibilities in my position, but it also is not a typical office job. I oversee staff and offices in a district that covers 63 counties and more than 47,000 square miles. There are days I can sit at my kitchen table while the boys play and nap and get my work done. But there are other days I’m on the road and unable to get home for supper or get my oldest to pre-school. I take the downtime and days at home when I can but my schedule differs widely every week and some meetings and travel requirements are simply out of my control.

And finally, there are our two adorable boys, Evan, age 4, and Owen, age 2. Evan is in pre-school and attends school four mornings a week. He just started his first sports activity – basketball – which practices Saturday morning. Owen attends daycare and for now, is just along for the ride. The boys rarely sit still but I know their busy days are still ahead of them. I look forward to baseball games and band practice but I get anxious thinking about the layer those will add to our already hectic family schedule.

Both of my boys have only known an unpredictable and somewhat chaotic schedule. I tell people who question our jobs and schedules that we are raising flexible and adaptable little boys who understand that you just gotta take each day as it comes and go with the flow! So far, they don’t seem to mind. We very much rely on a tribe of individuals, including siblings, parents, babysitters and friends to keep us going and our boys well cared for, and for those individuals I am forever grateful.

I would describe an average day, but I honestly can’t think of one. Each day is different and that’s what makes our family and lifestyle so unique. We don’t enjoy supper together at our kitchen table as much as I would like, but we find other ways to spend time together as a family – and sometimes that’s in the cab of a tractor or the side of the road in lawn chairs eating sandwiches for lunch.

I used to be jealous of those wives who had a husband home at 5:30 p.m. every evening and all weekend long. And I’m not going to lie, there are days I still wish that was our life. But I’ve come to embrace our chaos, enjoy the time I have with my boys and embrace the flexibility that is allowed in both my and my husband’s jobs. We don’t often have the same hours of open time but when we do, we sure try to make the most of it.

I know I’m not the only farm wife struggling to keep a sense of normalcy in our kids’ lives but there is something special and wonderful about growing up and raising kids on the farm. Add to that the opportunity for my boys to see what hard work, dedication to a job and commitment to a lifestyle and future means and required is priceless.

So for all you mommas with a mountain of laundry, a to-do list a mile long, a schedule that is never the same I see you, a get you and I say keep on, keepin on! To catch more of our crazy life, follow along on Instagram and Twitter @SawyerFarm and subscribe to this blog post at www.newtothefarm.com.

 

 

Women Lead Ag – Just Look Locally

I just finished a podcast about women in agriculture. It wasn’t your usual, more women need to farm, instead it focused on the lack of women in leadership and decision-making positions at the many national farm and food organizations. As someone involved in both policy and advocacy, this issue caught my attention. But it also caught my ongoing frustration with the conversations surrounding women in leadership roles (more about that later).

The podcast featured three women ag reporter and their first example of male dominance was at an American Farm Bureau Federation’s national meeting and the claim was that there was only one women in the room voting on policy issues. I can neither verify or dismiss that claim but I can say that men do normally outnumber women in the organization – at the national level. But as a women involved in Farm Bureau that doesn’t bother me. Why? Well Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization that derives all policy positions from the local and state level. So if we look not at the national voting delegates, they are merely taking marching orders from their states. So if you look the people sitting in board rooms on a Tuesday night in a rural Kansas community, you’re likely to find as many if not more women than men. That reassures me that women are and will continue to play an important role in shaping and implementing ag policy. Listen to the complete podcast at: https://simplecast.com/s/42337269

The same holds true for several other agriculture organizations that allow their membership base to determine policy positions and direction for involvement and action. The focus of male/female ratios should not be solely on the top of the organization but on the local level where decisions are made and input given for those at the state, regional and federal levels.

But on the larger issue of women in leadership. Sheryl Sandberg sparked a movement with her book, Lean In, that promoted 100 percent, no-excuses involvement at the workplace. Women should always be working toward the next promotion and leadership position. That’s all good and fine for the women who can or chose to be 100 percent career focused. But for the other 90 percent of us, there is more to life than professional success. There are children, spouses, friends, communities and all of the joy that comes in the small moment and downtime in our lives. Success at work is wonderful – I strive for it daily – but to declare that women must reach parity with men in all industries and walks of life, I have to raise my hand and ask the question if there are that many women who really want to give it all up to sit at the top of the company organizational chart. Sure, success sounds great and the money that comes with those positions would make many aspects of life simpler. But it would, no doubt, diminish time with kids, connections to the local community and the flexibility and freedom that comes with fewer work responsibilities. I, for one, am not prepared to give that all up just to even the playing field with men. I know how and where I can play a role in policy development and advocacy and have found that I can make a different from my farm and my kitchen table.

I trust and know that if and when women want to rule the world, they can and will. And for those women who have a singular focus on career and professional success, that time will come much quicker. But for others of us who want to be present for our childrens’ school plays and Saturday football games, that success may come later in life. Or it may never be fully realized at all because somewhere along the way we figured out there was more to life than a big paycheck and the corner office.

Distance Distorts Understanding

Conveniences in food purchasing and preparation are leading to continued decline in connection to agriculture

Combine and grain cart

We Americans want it all. We want the big paychecks and the 40-hour work week. We want well behaved kids but don’t want to tell them no. We want big houses but little upkeep. And we want the trendiest, healthiest and riches foods but none of the input required to get it to the table.

Today’s culture has become obsessed with cooking and all things food. We have multiple television channels devoted to cooking and culinary trends. Food retails were responsible for more than $500 billion in sales in 2016 and just recently, retail giant Amazon jumped into the grocery market, buying Whole Foods and sending shock waves through the industry.

But like all things in our busy lives, we don’t seem to actually have time to shop for and prepare these amazing foods we are insisting be found on our dinner table. Heck, we hardly have time to sit down and enjoy a meal. Grocery stores now offer online ordering and curb side delivery and if you can’t possibly make it to the parking lot, a dozen or so new companies specialize in delivering meal kits directly to our homes.

While all of this convenience is nice, it’s also a bit worrisome. At a time when we have become so entrenched in dictating food policy and eating habits not just of ourselves but others – see article on school districts reducing meat consumption of its students – we are farther removed than ever from the people, places and systems that grow our food and deliver it to the table.

I’m certainly not one to point fingers. I just polished off a frozen microwave meal and handed my children Eggo waffles as they walked out the door this morning. But I still believe in cooking and making the weekly trek to the grocery store to personally pull the boxes and cans from the shelves and throw them into the back of my always dirty car. And being married to a farmer, I get to witness each part of the growing and harvesting process. Today less than 2% of the country’s population shares my experience and understanding of the food system and that’s too few.

That decline in direct connection to food has been in stark contrast to the uptick in regulations, proposals and pushes to label, stipulate and mandate ingredients, growing practices and preparation techniques. We want unblemished products from untreated seeds and unprotected plants. We want healthy and balanced ready in 30 minutes and for less than $5 per person. We want our farmers and ranchers to raise products using outdated and ineffective growing practices but want to use 21st century technology to deliver it the next day to our kitchen table.

As American consumers, we have access to the most abundant, healthy and affordable food supply on the planet. Nowhere else can people enjoy so much for so little. But our push to move technology out of the field but onto our kitchen table has further distorted most consumers’ views and understanding of how food is raised and impacts our bodies and overall health. We want to see all Americans with equal access to all things healthy and gourmet but we don’t want to see farms grow or consolidate to realize the efficiencies necessary to produce affordable grains, beef and dairy products. People who have never in so much as peeled a potato want to tell others how and what to eat.

American consumers cannot continue to take a hands-off approach to purchasing and preparing food but insist on dictating how our farmers raise their crops and others get their nutrients. If consumers want to make decisions on meals, they need to be more involved in the growing of the food. But the more we walk away from buying and preparation, the most uneducated and uninformed we all become in regards to our food.

National Farmer Day: The many hats of a 21st Century farmer

It’s National Farmers Day. To many people, farming is a simplistic occupation and the farmer a nice but traditional man who plants the seeds and harvests the crop. But when I look at my farmer, I see a man who has 100 jobs, a million responsibilities and a variety of skills that serve him in all aspects of the job.

As I watched my husband work on the combine this evening, I made a mental list of his many skills, responsibilities and titles. Here are just a few roles and responsibilities he carries while “farming”:

– A veterinarian, administering treatments to sick animals

– A mechanic, repairing broken farm vehicles

– A technician, fixing broken implements

– A gardener, tending to his plants and checking soil health and moisture

– A truck drive, moving crops and cattle down the road

– A cowboy, herding cattle and moving them to new pasture ground

– A welder, repairing broken fencing and equipment

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The boys and I paid the farmer hubs a visit to the field tonight. We don’t see much of dad during harvest.
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The farmer and his father work to repair a bearing on the combine header. Owen provided supervision for the job.

 

– A caretaker, tending to sick animals and watching over newborn calves

– A nigh watchman, keeping track of the neighbors while he’s burning the midnight oil planting wheat or cutting soybeans

– A salesman, finding markets and opportunities for his grains and cattle

– A banker, managing his finances and planning for the next season

– An accountant, tracking purchases, paying bills and ensuring it all balances at the end of the day

– An investor, leveraging his equity in hopes of one day providing an opportunity for the next generation

– An advocate, standing up and speaking out for what he believes in

– A leader, donating his time to his church and community

– A son, watching his father and asking for advice along the way

– A father, showing his sons his passion for farming and the work ethic needed to make it in this industry

– A husband, providing for his family

– An agronomist, determining the seed variety best fit for the soil and region

– An environmentalist, protecting the ground and world around him while caring for the land they farm

– An engineer, using the tools and resources in his truck or tractor cab to craft a fix or render a solution to the problem

– An optimist, knowing the sun will come up and God will provide

In any given day, my husband is handling one if not all of these responsibilities. It’s all part of being a 21st century farmer. Farming is a way of life and farmer is a title bestowed only those determined and resilient enough to endure the hard times, long days and imperfect options.

 

 

 

The demise of the grocery store: removing another link between consumer and farmer

6.26.17 at grocery store
During our weekly shopping trip to our local Dillons Grocery Store, my youngest son, Owen, gives the bunch of bananas he helped select a kiss. I shop for our family’s groceries weekly and try to take at least one, if not both, of my sons to the store to educate them on food choices.

Jeff Bezos and his multi-billion-dollar company, Amazon, made news again this week when he announced the purchase of Whole Foods, an upscale grocery store chain that specializes in organic, natural selections.

Amazon has spent nearly two decades perfecting the mail-order business, allowing people, like myself, to bypass local retailers, traffic and the check-out line by simply ordering the product on my Amazon mobile app. Experts estimate nearly half of all American households use Amazon on a regular basis.

For those Americans who value convenience, Amazon’s entrance into the food world should be a welcome move. Now the retailer that specializes in delivering socks, diapers and books will be able to ship pasta sauce, dinner rolls and juicy red apples right to our front door.

As a mother of two ornery and energetic little boys, nothing makes me happier than to discover ways to make my everyday routine, errands and shopping trips easier. But as a farm wife, Amazon’s announcement is heartbreaking.

I must back up and note that Amazon is not the first business to disrupt the traditional grocery store model. A handful of companies have begun offering meal delivery services, essentially eliminating the need to visit the store or do the prep work for meals – food arrives in a box already sliced, diced and measured. And large grocery store chains have also made it possible to still purchase groceries locally but eliminate the need to step into the store with online ordering and curb-side pick up. All of these services are offered in the name of convenience, but they only serve to further remove the consumer from the farm.

While there is no substitute for seeing the crops in the ground and the animals at pasture, only seeing food in pieces or piles does nothing to help families connect fields to corn or orchards to applies. If children grow up not knowing what a papaya looks like in its original form – on the tree – then how do we expect them to know what a GMO food is and why need to use crop technology to avoid pest infections and disease?

To fully understand the need for crop technology, herbicides and pesticides, people must understand how food is grown. A recent poll found that 7 percent of U.S. adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Americans have basically become agriculture ignorant and taking the grocery store out of a family’s weekly routines means food now comes from the same brown box as shoes, coffee makers and hairspray. It has no originals, no life cycle and no environment.

The Economic Impact of the Grocery Store

Grocery stores do more than provide access to food. In my home state of Kansas, grocery stores are economic drivers and corner store of small, rural communities. Kansas State University estimates that each rural grocery store in Kansas has an average economic impact of a half-million dollars. Nationally independent grocery stores contribute a combined estimated $30 million in both salaries and taxes. Remove grocery stores from communities and you lose food access, jobs and financial contributions.

As an agriculture advocate, the grocery has served as a meeting ground of sorts, a place that we, as farmers and ranchers, can access consumers, talk about products and their and explain all we do to care for the animals and the land. As more grocery stores close their doors or consumers simply avoid physical locations all together those meeting places become fewer and fewer. Schools are devoting less hours to nutritional lessons and plant science courses and restaurants are creating their own – often false and misleading – narratives on how food is grown and raised.

I know the grocery store is not the most convenient or exciting item on the weekly to-do list, but it’s a vital component to connecting consumers and farmers while educating the public on what our food really looks like. Without a baseline of understanding or familiarity with our food system, consumers are at risk of completely removing themselves from the production and distribution process and taking yet another step away from the farms and ranches and produce the goods now arriving at their front door.