Talking Agriculture with City Slickers


Because of my newfound place in the urban corporate world (while working in the rural agriculture industry) and my three-years-and-counting stint as a resident of Chicago’s ritzy west suburbs, I have spent a lot of time around people I fondly call “city slickers.” I’ve written about feelings of apprehension regarding my adjustment to suburban life, but I’ve come to love the different lifestyles I’ve had, in a separate-but-equal sort of way. There are pros and cons to living in the country, the burbs, or the city. The people you surround yourself with can make a big difference.

Sometimes the conversations you have with people in a different setting and lifestyle are priceless.

Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of my “city slicker” friends about the agricultural life. At a get-together I recently attended, someone began tossing out facts about “cow-tipping.” This led to a discussion about different cattle and the ways in which their houses based on their purpose in life. At the cafeteria on campus, a lot of conversations arise about where certain food items come from, how they are produced, and the steps between the farm and the finished product.

Because I have been very outgoing and forward with my love of agricultural production, my friends in the city now know to come to me with questions or concerns.

Recently, a good friend of mine at my campus job took up baking. She has a fondness for pumpkin dishes, and in the last week has been fattening me up with pumpkin cookies and pumpkin bread. (If you read this, Susan, I greatly appreciate it.) While enjoying her tasty treats, I mentioned that 90-95% of the processed pumpkins in the U.S. are grown in Illinois, and that Kankakee County (my home county) is one of the top ten pumpkin producing areas of the state.

I shared that tidbit at work, and the folks who heard were impressed. A few even asked questions. By relating my knowledge to something in the “here and now” that folks were interested in and could identify with, I inserted a little bit of ag into their day.

A similar situation arose when one of my roommates bought some candy that had almonds in it. I said, “Hey, Em, did you know I went to almond orchards in California?” She mentioned that she had read it on Twitter that I had, and that we had an interesting conversation about [what I know of] almond production and some of the people I know that raise them.

It doesn’t always work that well, though.

Just a few days ago, I accidentally ended up in a heated discussion with another friend’s roommate. I had mentioned that there is a distinct difference between animal welfarists and animal rightists, and gave a brief description of each and how their view and impact agriculture. I felt that I had given a pretty fair description of what the two different groups believed in. I wanted to make an effort to understand his views, so I listened to what he said. Even though he had no desire to be involved with either mindset and didn’t have any personal involvement, he was very set on his opinion. My final statement to him on the subject was, “Well, believe what you want, but it’s my job to know these things.” Then, we went back to watching the football game.

(My friend, his roommate, mentioned that this person tends to argue for the sake of arguing and can be stubborn. I get the vibe that he pulled me into the debate for the fun of it.)

Where am I going with all of this? Well, I have a few key points to make.

  • Don’t preach ag, let the conversation happen naturally.
  • Make it fun when you can.
  • If someone disagrees, be willing to accept their opinion. If you can tell you won’t change their mind, don’t try to. It’s like the saying, “Don’t wrestle with a pig in the mud. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”
And this doesn’t just apply to agriculture; these little observations can be applied to sharing any valuable message you want to share. I follow the same mentality when I talk to people about my support of things like cancer research, youth involvement, and funding the arts.
FOR THE RECORD: I am not suggesting you set out each day looking to force people into agriculture conversations. I am not saying I wake up with an agenda to push my opinion on others. I am saying that ag is something I am passionate about, and when it arises in conversation I want to make the most of it. The conversations I have with people are generally naturally-rooted, organically-occurring and relevant to the preceding dialogue. It doesn’t happen because I have this obsessive need to talk about agriculture…it happens because, as humans, we have a tendency to talk about the things we love and care about.
Now that I’ve finally finished another of the draft posts sitting on my blog waiting to be completed and published, I need to move forward with my day. It’ll be a long one, but it’ll be ripe with opportunities to have fun, honest dialogue with people about the things I am passionate about (both in and out of agriculture).
So, tell us: do you have any good agvocacy stories that stand out in your mind? Any memories about talking to “city slickers” about where their ag products, both raw and value-added, come from?
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