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?