The day that I walked down the aisle in my church just a block away from where I grew up I had no idea where this next journey in life was going to take me. We all piled into the limousine with my new family and friends and headed off to the reception hall with a view of the great skyline of Chicago gleaming out the front windshield.

Then, just like a great symbol of what was to come, we turned the corner and headed for the reception hall as the Sears Tower (as it used to be called) and John Hancock building shifted slowly to the rear window and became my past.

I am not ashamed of being a “city girl.” I think I am actually more proud of it than most. My past is what has defined who I am now and has enabled me to share my farm story in a unique and relatable way.  Sometimes I sit and ask myself why are people so intrigued by what I have to say? I am not explaining rocket science or the theory of relativity; I’m just telling my story the way I see it, but maybe that is what is so attractive to readers.

I’m an outsider, a skeptic turned believer, a fellow animal lover who now sees both sides of the game.

I see the farmers who are farming as they always have and are now learning to embrace technology to make their operations more efficient and productive. I also now see the groups that are against farming, and how they play on the emotions of others who won’t ever get the chance to see anything different than their skewed opinion and sad looking videos.

Brenneman: Addressing biases – one person at a timeI read the exaggerated and fact-less articles that are put out there with the sole purpose of scaring consumers away from animal agriculture and finding out where their food comes from. I’m not too clear on the goals of those particular groups.

I know they stress they do not want to see animals abused, and claim to be giving a “voice to the voiceless” but we absolutely stress the same thing. I am sure that as farmers and caretakers of the actual animals, we stress that more. So for every poor article and sad dark picture, there simply must be an informative farmer out there who shares all the good that we do every day and why we use our practices.

We need to address the areas in which we’re improving and show that we are human too – not robots plugging along a conveyor belt pumping out pigs with no emotion. But who seeks out this information about us? Not too many.

When faced with a concern over poor media about farming, it is accepted as fact and chips away at people’s confidence in the food that you eat. 

Well I had a breakthrough last week in my farm sharing story. This is the kind of experience that truly brings all of the efforts that I give full circle and puts a smile on my face. I was driving my kids to the babysitter in town early Monday morning when my phone buzzed with an alert. I saw that there was a link shared with me on my personal Facebook page from an old friend that I had graduated high school with back in my “city days.”

For some strange reason, I had the feeling that this would be a link to an article that we as farmers so very often read and shake our heads over.

Most likely it would have “Factory Farm” in the title and would read something along the lines of “pig farming is disgusting and here are the reasons why.” I was correct in my assumption of the article’s content, however this experience had a completely different and unexpected effect on me. Instead of feeling attacked and defensive, I was filled with utter excitement and relief. Somebody who wasn’t from a farm saw a piece of material that they did not enjoy and that made them feel appalled about certain farming practices. This is an all too common occurrence. But here is where the story takes it unusual turn.

The person knew that I had moved away from the city lights to become this very kind of farmer that the article spoke about.  But instead of believing every bit of it and losing faith in the food supply, this person contacted me and asked me what I thought. They contacted a farmer to ask about farming. You can imagine how elated I am to have that effect on someone! I eagerly read the article and immediately began to write my take and response on the topics discussed. I was able to explain viewpoint on large-scale pig farming and how it is all about family, care for the pigs, and people.

These are the types of questions that I get excited to answer because I know I have so much information to share and explain.  Simply writing back an answer that states “No, that isn’t true” wouldn’t seem justified. So I responded with an explanation and examples of specific things that seemed to be skewed and unnecessarily negative.

The person probably felt like I was going a little crazy with it but the truth was I was simply excited. There are days when I sit and wonder if all of my efforts are truly reaching and educating those who don’t know, or am I serving as support for others in the agriculture community who want to learn to share their stories as well. Either way is equally rewarding, but now I know that both outcomes are true. 

Brenneman: Addressing biases – one person at a timeI felt a great sense of optimism after this experience took place. I feel that the fantastic honest people of agriculture are making huge strides in sharing what we know and what we do every day and are starting to make an impact. We have opened our doors and willingly share all of the great things that are taking place in order for us to feed the world, and people are starting to listen.

I want to take my last few words and sincerely thank my friend from long ago who roamed the never ending halls of Lyons Township High School with me in LaGrange, Ill. – the person who sought out some truth in an article that only seemed to be raising fear instead of teaching. Although sharing this scenario with you may seem like a small gesture, I assure you it was an unforgettable milestone.

It made me aware that I am now beginning to truly share and paint the amazing story that is my day-to-day life as a pig farmer for all to see. For this I cannot thank you enough for your question and, quite frankly, for making it one of the best cases of the “Monday’s” that I have ever had.

Please, continue to ask away!