At a CommonGround event in Clinton, Iowa, I stood at our booth as dozens of women walked by, picking up literature about the program and sampling chocolate-covered soybeans (www.soynuts.com). As the women looked at our recipe cards and asked about CommonGround, I tried to engage them by saying something like this:
“We are all farm wives who volunteer to answer questions and share facts about agriculture. I am a turkey farmer – my husband and I raise over 100,000 turkeys annually in Central Iowa. Do you have any questions or concerns about the way turkeys are raised?”
Sometimes, I’d throw in buzz words like “antibiotics,” “hormones,” or “confinement” to get them talking, but for one woman, I didn’t have to go any further.
After my spiel, she replied immediately with, “Well, yes, I do! Is it true that turkeys can’t walk? Do you just pump them so full of feed and make them so fat that their legs can’t even carry them?”
I have to admit that I was a bit excited by her question. That is exactly the type of myth I’m trying to clear up! “There was an article in the New York Times several years ago that claimed turkeys are so large that they can’t even carry their own weight, but fortunately, it’s not true,” I responded. “Our turkeys are big – almost 45 pounds when they go to market – but they can walk themselves right out the door and onto the semi.”
A second woman spoke up. “Really? Because my son has helped load turkeys before and he said they had to kick them and throw them to get them up on the truck.”
Sigh. “Well, I never said they will go just where you want them to go, but physically, they are capable of walking to the truck!” I say. “And on our farm, we would never injure an animal for any reason. Not only is it cruel, but a bruised bird means bruised meat, and bruised meat means a penalty for us from the processing plant. Our guys use plastic bags and wave them at the turkeys, herding them to the conveyor that lifts them on the truck.” And besides, I wanted to say, who throws a 45-pound turkey?
Can you imagine if I hadn’t started a conversation with these women? They might have moved past our booth, looked at my recipe card to see that I raise turkeys, and then shared the negative myths about turkey farms that they both believed. Instead of having a real conversation with a real turkey farmer, these women would have had a vision of turkey farming that was nothing like reality. That short conversation taught me a lesson. If I didn’t tell my story, someone else would.