At the Nebraska State Fair, I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer in the Raising Nebraska Building and help children (and even more so, their parents) understand a concept that people don’t generally associate with farming—risk. 

Now, of course, if you are a farmer, you understand this concept of risk probably more than you would like to. However, the average consumer might assume that being a farmer is like any other job, just with longer hours  A farmer knows the investment, the personal investment that is put into farming. 

They know that if the market isn’t as high as it should be or if the weather isn’t ideal, that it can make or break them. A good example of this would be my own father. Along with many others in the late 1990’s, he was forced to quit farming when he had to sell his hogs at 9 cents a pound.

I told this story frequently when I played “Risk the Ranch” with fairgoers back in August.

To play “Risk the Ranch,” participants first were given a plastic pig that looked similar to a plastic egg that kids get at Easter. They then had the opportunity to “feed” their pig, or place soybeans inside of it.  They then had to add stones to the pig which represented other costs like transportation, housing, veterinary bills, etcetera. When they got to the end of the table, we weighed their pig for them and based on the weight, they were given a price they needed to break even. In order to see what the market price was at that time, they were given a chip that they needed to place on a pegged board with slots on the bottom that had designated prices.

For example, one girl needed a price of $87 cwt to break even.  Her chip fell in the $88 cwt slot, so she made money that day when she “sold” her hogs. There were many cases where the opposite was true and they didn’t make any money. There were even more cases that participants tried to err on the side of caution and actually didn’t have hogs that made weight, so they had to take them back and keep feeding them. In any case that happened, there was always a valuable discussion to be had. My favorite discussion that I had was with a parent who was telling his child that farmers were rich because they got paid $87 or $88 a pound for their animal.  He didn’t fully understand the per hundredweight price and after we talked about it, he did some math and then he realized that farmers don’t make as much money as he thought.

This creative activity was an overall great tool to teach both kids and adults about hog production and the risk that all farmers take trying to do what they love. This risk is often forgotten about when thinking about what farmers do. When it comes to risk, one of our greatest presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, once said that “no man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well-being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause” and if that cause is farming, then in my eyes, you’re worth all the salt.