Backyard Cows

12/22/2012 7:00 AM
By Margaret Gates Regional Editor

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack lamented last week in a speech to Farm Belt leaders that rural America is becoming “less and less relevant to the politics of this country,” as evidenced by the fact that farm-state lawmakers were unable to push a Farm Bill through Congress this election year.

One Farm Belt leader described a continuing communication gap between farmers and the food-eating public.

That may come as a surprise in the midst of a burgeoning buy-local, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” movement, but there are still many out there who don’t really want to know their farmer — at least not up close and personal.

Take a story published in a Lancaster County, Pa., newspaper last week about residents of a development called, ironically, The Meadows, who are objecting to cows grazing on a 20-acre fenced-in plot behind their homes.

It seems the farmer who owns the neighboring property has been working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to find an environmentally friendly way to control invasive vegetation on wetlands adjacent to the development.

The solution was to install fencing and allow about 10 cattle to graze the area as a low-impact method of both eliminating the vegetation and protecting the wetlands habitat.

In a world where farmers repeatedly stand falsely accused of mismanaging the environment, it seems like a pretty responsible solution, right?

Well, not if you ask residents of that neighboring development, including one who said he did not want to look out his window and see cows in his backyard.

Really? Ten cows on 20 acres? That’s hardly a stampeding herd.

You buy property in a place called The Meadows, adjacent to farmland, but you don’t want to see a few cows?

So often, the nonfarming public professes a love of farmland when, in reality, that love has nothing to do with the farm and everything to do with the land. What they want to preserve is the view, not the way of life.

We saw it elsewhere this year in the case of the Mullinix brothers of Howard County, Md., who are seeking to remove their land from a farm preservation program it entered more than 25 years ago.

Residents of a neighboring development turned out en masse for a public meeting on the issue to protest the farmers’ request, not so much because they were concerned about issues like the county’s agricultural heritage, the preservation of farmland or local food production, but because of what they might see when they look out their windows.

Many of those residents noted they purchased their homes because of the guarantee that their open-space view would be there forever.

Nicole Mullinix, a daughter of one of the landowners, noted that those homeowners stole her open-space view first. Touché.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a home because of a view, but farmland preservation means so much more.

Naturally, there are also countless cases across the country where farmers and nonfarmers co-exist in harmony.

But if farmers truly hope to exert more influence on the national scene, it’s going to take much more than simply being a good neighbor, although that certainly can’t hurt. After all, the more farmers’ neighbors that turn out to vote for pro-agriculture candidates and causes, the better.

Vilsack told farming leaders they need to be more proactive and less reactive, although we’d argue both are probably necessary. The idea that farm dust might be regulated, for instance, was hardly an issue to be sneezed at.

Nevertheless, if we are to change the landscape of national thought, it will take more than simply quibbling over the next regulation to come down the road.

The Peterson brothers of Kansas get the message. The trio became a YouTube sensation this summer with their video “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” a parody of the hit “I’m Sexy and I Know It.”

This month, in their continuing effort to promote their love of agriculture, they released their latest video, “Farmer Style,” a take-off on the wildly popular “Gangnam Style” by South Korean rapper Psy.

“Agriculture, is so important to me, (and should be to you) HEY!” the brothers sing. “It feeds the world and will never ever cease to be. We need to eat! We all need farmers to provide us with our food, food, food, food!”

Like their first video, the second one features an entertaining mix of serious farm work and not-so-serious dance moves, along with lessons on where our food really comes from.

The new video got nearly 9 million hits in its first week. Hopefully some of those watching got a different view of farming — one that goes beyond the scenic landscape they see out their windows.

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