~ Riceland Meadows ~

Dirty Words of Farming
by Ralph Rice

Today I want to bring up the subject of swearing while farming. Many of us don’t swear unless we’re pounding thumbs instead of nails, but those words we’ll not talk about here. The dirty words I mean are words perceived to be bad by some people in my farming profession, words such as profit, savings, vacation, benefits, and time off. Some of today’s farmers use these words in a low voice and with a red face. They feel embarrassed to be managing a profitable business, a business that has slipped in social acceptance from a noble vocation to an almost shameful endeavor.

Farming is a business. Yes, it’s also a romantic and great way of life, a wonderful place to raise children, and a fulfilling lifestyle to those of us who love it, but it should be managed like any other business. Many small farmers, including myself, are diversifying and developing value-added products from our farms. We use grass based, low input practices combined with common sense and sound management. We’re challenged to change, to think outside the box, to sell our farm products and indeed our very lifestyles to a grateful yet uninformed public. We must educate them continually about our farm products and provide a service they can’t get anywhere else. Our willingness to change and accept these challenges ensures not only our survival, but our profitability as well.

As our customer base increases and we continue to move from commodity based farming to community based farming, the profit margin is sure to increase. We should be celebrating and smiling all the way to the bank, instead of being embarrassed about turning a profit in the second oldest profession known to mankind.

Our patrons are pleased with our goods and services. They are broadcasting their satisfaction to their family and friends. We’re selling an experience, not just a package of meat or vegetables. We offer a glimpse of a sometimes forgotten lifestyle, and extend the joys of our farms to their tables and indeed into their lives. They take comfort in helping America’s family farmers by helping secure their own future, and they’re willing to pay for it.

We, as farmers, are challenged to know our customers and push ourselves to excel at providing for them. Selling only the best sows trust and confidence in our ability. We must communicate, listen, and smile, place reasonable demands on ourselves and our time, and continue to seek sound farming practices.

We must place value on our hours worked, even though we love it. We have to plan for time off and not feel guilty when we take it. We must price our products competitively, securing more of our customer’s dollar by direct sales. These things we must do to become and remain profitable.

We must network with each other, each of us providing a product or service that avoids direct competition. Cooperation enhances our farming operations as we share customers, ideas, and profits.

We should use words like profit, savings, and time off during dinner table conversations, not as words to be spoken under the breath with a red face. Profit and time off, combined with farming’s lifestyle, will make your children swear by farming, not at farming.

Ralph Rice's column "Reflections" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Autumn 2006 issue.

09 May 2007