A farmer, two lawyers, a chiropractor, counselor and guesthouse owner — all investors in community businesses — take a trip. They talk business, family, the future and ways to help the community. At the end of the trip, the farmer realizes that non-ag people are interesting, and she can learn from them.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m the farmer in this story, and the other folks are members of the Carrollton, Ill., downtown initiative group. (Carrollton is a small town near where we farm.)
We toured Mount Horeb, Wis., where we met with city leaders and a private development group. The town has experienced business, housing and job growth in the past five years, and we hope to bring similar growth to Carrollton.
Expanding our minds
During the trip, I wondered what farmers think about people outside their own circle, and whether we’re really being honest about our empathy and knowledge of how these folks think.
I never wanted to be labeled as small-minded, but after this experience I’m starting to wonder about my big-picture perspective toward others.
The truth is, I was terrified to be the only farmer in the group. I was concerned about being in a vehicle for 12 hours with people who didn’t talk about farming. I can talk about farming for hours, but I’m not sure I can talk about non-farming topics for hours.
I expected to get hammered with factory farming and Trump questions, and those fears did come true. But after explaining the reasons we feed corn to our cattle, the vegetarian in the group and I found common ground. I also naively learned that she is not the only vegetarian in our small town.
I thought, “Those plant-based, zero-waste, local food loving, water bottle hating people live far away in a vast land called the city, not on my block.”
It was a real epiphany when I began to realize, these are regular folks and they live anywhere and everywhere — even in my hometown.
Circle of influence
How did my inner circle become so small? I always believed I had a big circle of influence. I talk to other farmers daily in person or on Twitter. I write about management topics for Farm Futures. I’ve met hundreds of people at farm conferences.
It’s a comfortable place to exist. But I’m afraid that, although my circle is large in numbers, it’s small in mindset.
Apparently, I’ve become trapped — so trapped that the thought of spending time with innocent non-ag people scares me.
Farmers talk about the weather, the markets and fieldwork. I’ve joked that without the weather, we wouldn’t have much to discuss.
It took a simple thing like meeting a plant-based foodie from my hometown to change my mind about my circle.
Spicing things up
I’m now adding diversity to the people who influence me, through reading new books, spending time with nonfarmers, and traveling to places other than the farm and coffee shop. I’m trying to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Simple steps will broaden my circle, with the goal to not be so surprised when I meet the next vegetarian from my neighborhood.
Cox farms with her father, Ethan, in White Hall, Ill. The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.