Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food - Keep Your Storefront Clean?

Last evening I participated (albeit shortly) in the weekly #agchat session on Twitter. For any of you who do not use twitter and have not yet delved into this fascinating world of social media, give it a try. It's a wonderful way to connect with people. This is also one way that agriculture is trying to bridge the expanding gap between the urban and rural separation that I call America's Great Divide.

The topic for last evening's #agchat was the new USDA program called "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food". The talking points challenged many of the agricultural producers to stretch outside of their comfort zone and discuss ways to connect with consumers at the farm level, just as the KYF KYF program will try and do.

Many of the comments and rhetoric that I watched tied directly to an idea that I have been throwing around for quite some time now. As a professional designer, I understand much of the urban populations desire to see places that are clean, well kept and beautiful. In the midwest, many of the farms I see correlate directly with this ideal. However, out West where I am from, I think that many of the farms and ranches have lost this appeal. Agriculturalist out there farm large amounts of ground, we're talking huge. With many of their family not returning to the farm, it leaves them with work from sun up to sun down and little time to keep the grounds. I think if these spaces could be revitalized and given just a hint of professional design input, they could shine.

Part of connecting with consumers in the new local food market includes your business facility. Yep, your farm or ranch is now your place of business, your store front. If we want to connect to the urban society, there needs to be a touch of class and refinement. I'm not talking fake - dude ranch style, I'm talking nice respectable working facility style. A place to be proud of and a place to humbly show off when the city folk decide to see what agriculture is all about.

I read a great article last night in Working Ranch Magazine about a guest ranch in Utah that is doing a great job of being a real working cattle outfit while allowing guests to see a glimpse into what they do. While not everyone is geared to run a hospitality business, I think that the local food movement should send a message to our ag producers that we need to think about aesthetics a little. Urban people are used to their well kept neighborhoods and probably expect a little of the same when visiting rural America.

Does anyone think this is a valid point? Could there be a market for designers to help (not exploit, i know how limited ranch finances can be) ranchers and farmers position their grounds for the public?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Finding The Path

Last night, I sat and watched Ken Burn's "National Parks: America's Best Idea" documentary on PBS. As I intently watched, my heart began to yearn for America's wide open spaces and wonder how my life could lead to them . However, I could not help reading into the over arching preservationist attitudes presented by the film and it's somewhat negative slant on many of our early farmers and ranchers way out west. It lead me to think of America's western ranchers and their unending conservation efforts. Their continual care for some of America's most beautiful landscapes. These places are not national parks or national monuments, simply wide open spaces that allow natural resources to be converted by their animals. But, they are also beautiful and robust spaces that create a wonderful tapestry of rural landscapes that are so important to our nation. How can we help the urban population understand their meaning and significance as I and the rest of rural America do? Is there a way to make agriculture as important in America's mind as our national parks?

Now, as the description of my blog states, I am a young man stuck somewhere square in the middle of an urban and rural existence. I was born as a normal suburban kid in a town of about 40,000 people. We lived right on the city limits of town. I could walk through our back yard and directly into 100 acres of wheat planted by a neighboring farmer as well as ride my bike less than a quarter mile and see both a cattle ranch and horse ranch within view. As I have grown these places have imprinted in my being. Later at college, I met my fiancee which led me to their cattle ranch in Eastern Colorado. Over the past 6 years, my life has been transformed by the incredible experience of cattle ranching and agriculture. So much so, that I plan on returning with my fiancee to continue their agricultural traditions once we are able to amass the necessary capital to start.

I yearn to help care for land and animals all while providing Americans with food. As I delve deeper into agriculture and its people, I am deeply disappointed in the marked divide between agriculture and the urban attitude towards it. I grew up as a suburban kid, but why are some many people ignorant towards rural space? This is where I want to help bridge the gap. I know how these urban people feel, but have been given the gift to see beyond the city limits and glimpse into wide open western life and the wonderful world of agriculture.

What a wondrous idea that some forward thinking fathers of our nation had to preserve our most beautiful spaces for all to experience. How can we use this same set of ideals to allow urban people to find the path towards understanding of agriculture and the vast spaces it cares for?