AGRICULTURE is an incredibly controversial subject. Knowing where your food comes from or knowing the farmer who produced it has become a hugely popular movement.
To many of our consumers, and even some farmers, however, there are two sides: the organic/sustainable farms and the big agribusinesses/corporations.
The belief is that it is impossible for the two to overlap.
This false dichotomy that our society has bought into with regard to food has created problems for those of us involved in agriculture. Unfortunately, agriculture is not as simple as the buzzwords we use to describe it.
Organic does not always equate to being more sustainable than conventional farming, and conventional does not always equal mega corporation.
By reducing agriculture to buzzwords, we make an extremely complex and diverse industry appear simple -- black and white or good versus bad -- when, in actuality, there are thousands of shades of gray.
Among the repercussions of simplifying such a complex industry is that we tend to start thinking that only these familiar buzzwords are truths.
The prime example is how consumers have started equating the word "organic" with being healthy and sustainable. While we all can agree that some organic production methods are beneficial to the environment, organic products are not necessarily any healthier for those who eat them. A cookie or donut is a treat, organic or not.
Simultaneously, it has become increasingly difficult for society to realize that farms and ranches using conventional methods can be sustainable, just like organic farms can (and often are) produced by mega corporations that may or may not be sustainable.
My ranch is a conventional cattle ranch. We use many of the same methods often employed by successful certified organic growers, but we also use some modern technology.
This ability to cherry-pick the best applications for the ranch has enabled it to be passed down through six generations.
As a society that has been inundated with marketing, catchphrases and accessible buzzwords, we have been conditioned to believe that it is not possible to do what my ranch is doing.
This is why, as farmers, it is increasingly important for us to have conversations about the production methods we use and why we use them. We must be transparent about the fact that many farmers use overlapping production methods. We must be able to talk about non-organic and sustainable in the same breath.
Our society tends to continue to cling to the idea that sustainable and non-organic are mutually exclusive. This has created tension and strife for anyone who wants to discuss the food supply.
These two "sides" have a difficult time getting over the buzzwords in order to have a meaningful conversation about agricultural production.
Until we, as a society, can look past the marketing that portrays agriculture as small organic famers versus mega corporations and realize that we are all working in agriculture together, we will continue to remain mired in contention and discord rather than working to improve and perfect the methods that ensure a diverse, healthy food supply for the 21st century and beyond.
*Megan Brown is a blogger and sixth-generation rancher who raises Black Angus cattle in northern California. From 4-H as a child to FFA as a teen to receiving her bachelor's degree in agricultural business from California State University-Chico, agriculture has been Brown's lifelong passion. Read more on her website at www.thebeefjar.com, or contact her at [email protected]