I am a passionate agriculture advocate (from here forth, agvocate). I promote communication between consumers and the people who produce their food. I promote education and equally-sided conversation. (In fact, I often play Devil’s Advocate and am a strong supporter of personal choice and hype-free decision-making in lifestyle.) I try to think critically and objectively about my actions and reactions on behalf of agriculture, because I know that with the wide gap between the public and agriculture, I could be someone’s first impression of the agriculture world.
I also have written a bit about trusting my gut instinct. My knee-jerk reactions have made some big choices for me over the years, including my educational path and several career moves I’ve made. Most of my school projects are done based on what “just feels right.” That isn’t always the best option, though. In fact, oftentimes, an in-the-moment response is the worst thing you can do.
When I recently saw the Yahoo! Education article stating that agriculture is the #1 most useless degree, I was up and at arms right away. After all, many of my friends and colleagues have degrees in agriculture, whether it’s specialized in production, management, business, communications, or any other area. Some of the best and brightest minds I know hold degrees in ag. I shared the link on my Facebook wall, including a jesting comment about “going to fisticuffs” because of the article.
I was upset, and offended. It didn’t take long for me to realize that gut reaction to the article was not a beneficial pathway for conversation, and as more people commented on that post, the more uncomfortable I had with it being in my timeline. I deleted it, and took some time to consider the approach we ag addicts were taking, as a community.
We were defensive. We were hostile toward outside questions. We were borderline condescending. Our hearts were in the right place and our passion was impressive, but were we really, really doing anything to help our reputation? It’s like a trivia board game: just because you shout the loudest, does not mean you have the right answer.
I don’t want to say that anyone was in the wrong here. Because, to be honest, passion is a wonderful thing. Many people had fantastic dialogue about the benefits of their agriculture degrees. A lot of people saw agriculture’s work, and we proved that we can band together for a single cause when it’s called for. At the same time, untempered, unbridled passion can do just as much harm as good. It’s time for the agricultural community to rein in and funnel that fierce, fiery passion into truly productive, two-way conversation.
As we move forward sharing the benefits of higher education in agriculture, I think we should be open-minded to how our non-ag audience may see us. We don’t want to be defensive, hostile, or accusatory. Instead, we should focus on positive sharing of information and stories. We’ve showed the world that agriculture majors can be gainfully employed. Now let’s share our stories on how agriculture degrees have positively impacted society.
How has your work in ag improved the lives of others? How does your degree help you contribute to the world around you? I may not be studying agriculture, but many of my favorite people and role models have degrees in it. Some of the best people I know are proud holders of a degree (in some cases, more than one) in ag. My challenge to you, the ag community, is to use whatever channel you have (blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, whatever) and spark up a conversation about the deeper meaning of your agriculture degree.
You have the passion. You’ve shown that, and I am proud of you all for it. Now let’s move forward and continue to build bridges with it.