So you might think this post is about seeds, gardening and what it all entails, and I might blog about that later (including the story about my cat knocking over 10 seedlings and me crying about it!), but right now I want to talk about perceptions.
I want to know, how do you picture a farmer? Do you picture a bright red barn, overalls and a small, bright green John Deere tractor? Or do you picture large grain bins, laptops, rubber boots, Facebook, 9870 John Deere combine and soil sampling?
This is what I want the consumer to understand: our perceptions are constantly being managed every single day. Farming isn’t overalls, small tractors and a big red barn anymore, even though there are those who would like you to think it is. I have a small tractor, it’s a D Case that I’m restoring for nostalgic purposes, not because it has use on my farm anymore. Sure, my outbuildings are red, but they house automatic watering systems, temperature controls, feed mills and more for me to help run a more efficient farm.
This past weekend, my husband and I headed to Decorah, Iowa to visit Seed Savers and check out the coined term “heirloom” plants. (I will do a blog post later about all of our seeds and the interesting things we learned while there!) I wanted to get some interesting seed varieties for my garden and since winter seems to be sticking around these parts of Minnesota, I figured I still have time to start my tomato seedlings instead of buying started plants like I normally do.
What you first see when you pull up are two beautifully constructed red buildings. One their shop where you can purchase a variety of seeds, books, gardening tools and more, and another that is a big red barn that provides shelter for some of their animals. You see a cute little garden area, corralled by beautiful white fencing, with information about how they make sure their plants don’t cross pollinate. You see container gardens as well on one side.
What I’m getting at, is you are meant to believe this is how heirloom seeds work and that everything gardening and organic is cute, red and mother nature just gets to do her business. Your perceptions are managed to believe the plants just grows beautifully out in the open without any human interference whatsoever.
What you don’t see are the 5 large greenhouses up the hill from their education center that are climate controlled, on automatic watering systems and are monitored closely.
What you don’t realize, is that there is human interference with these plants. They deliberately hand pollinate, bag pollinate [a technique often used by large seed corn manufactures…gasp!] and use spatial planting to eliminate cross pollination from the plants, insects, birds, etc. Wait…what?! You mean mother nature isn’t allowed to interfere with these organic, heirloom plants? You mean that technically these seeds are…wait for it…engineered. Yeap, you heard me right. They are breeding seeds for genetics (as well as a few animals too but blog post on that later!) and because of the work they are doing with them they are engineered seeds.
Science is involved in every aspect of agriculture today. It isn’t bright red barns anymore and your old neighbor with overalls and a pitchfork, as much as we would like to think that or as much as mainstream media wants us to think that too.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is AWESOME that Seed Savers is working to preserve seed varieties so we can enjoy a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in our gardens and on our tables. I am beyond excited to try my Tigger Melons and hope my Alma Paprika peppers grow so I can turn them into some tasty salsa and spaghetti sauce! But it also amazes me, how we as an agriculture industry fail to really let consumers see how we work and how scientific agriculture really is. If we continue to let consumers think that the red barn, overalls, and cute gardens are what we are about, we aren’t doing a good enough job. Farming today, whether it is seed conservation in climate controlled greenhouses or moisture sensors inside grain bins that send updates to our smart phones, is scientific, human controlled and it is constantly changing, updating and adapting to meet many of today’s needs, both from the farmer’s standpoint and from the consumer’s standpoint.
I’m asking for a greater awareness. Are we aware of how consumers perceptions are being shaped? How can we work to change that? What can you do? And consumers, are you aware of how your perceptions are constantly being managed? Can you go to a farm and reach out to them to learn about their operations? Can you keep an open mind on all sides of the food table?
I once was told in one of my marketing classes that perception is a person’s reality. Are we doing the reality of our farming operations today justice?