Ahead of a presentation I was about to give to dairy farmers in British Columbia, one of the organizers warned me about the chance of a few protestors from the group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) protesting the event. It wasn’t expected to be very large, maybe a dozen people or so, but I was warned they could be there in front of the Vancouver Convention Centre, as the dairy industry in the province worked to celebrate their accomplishments of the year and learn about the challenges ahead.
If they were to be there, it would actually be somewhat well planned. With the theme, “Conversations: Finding Your Voice,” organizers were hoping to help producers get some new ideas in how they can help discuss issues facing the industry whether they be around animal welfare, milk nutrition, or anything else.
With news about PETA’s potential presence I began to think about some of the things all farmers face, including the impending hecklers. Anyone with cows has likely been kicked by one hard enough to knock the wind out of them. Some have been far more seriously injured, even killed. Livestock abuse to a farmer is never about what a person can do to a cow or a bull, but instead about the very real dangers in what they can do to a person. Also, farmers have spent days away from their families as planting moves to rush mode and the only way to get a crop in is to be the last to climb into bed and the first back out to the cab of a tractor. The same goes for bringing the crop in. We sacrifice attending kids’ soccer games and a social night out to a hockey game because livestock need us, employees need us, our farms need us. We work with weather disasters, market declines, negative press, wary consumers and ill-thought-out government policy.
And then in the moment, like in Vancouver, we look at all the positives and celebrate while being greeted by people that would be more than happy to see us out of business.
Farming can be tough.
Good thing farmers are tougher.
It can be easy to wrap ourselves is the weaknesses and the negatives of what we do. It can be so easy — it’s almost a trap and one that our competition would be happy to see us in. The far more important piece to look at is have you ever taken a pause to remind yourself some the real reasons why you are on the farm? Driving a big machine or being your own boss are the usual starters, but farming is so much more than that. Very few people get the opportunity to work with their family by their side. To raise your kids in the barn or on the seat beside you is an opportunity worth reflecting on and appreciating. The ability to watch the sun rise up over your land, and in the same day watch it go down while appreciating a hard day’s work. We respect the soil, water and animals that are so incredibly important to our livelihood. After all, without them we’d be crippled. To be able to feed millions is a level of trust that people give to few other sectors. Stop for a moment to think about what that level of trust really means and why we are so lucky to have it.
It can be easy to focus on the negatives, but I don’t think we can ever let the negatives define us. We have so much to be proud about, that no matter the circumstance, we have to work to bring our focus back to all the good that makes us who we are.
When it comes to those PETA protestors, they did come. Only a few of them, and really they were just there to shout, not to participate in a dialogue, so we left it at that.
As we head into the winter holidays, I hope you’ll take a bit of time to reflect on that. Be proud of your work. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Be proud to farm.
Have a Merry Christmas, and a successful 2014.