A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers posted about some new steps in her family’s health/food journey.  They watched a few popular documentaries and are making some changes in their diet.  Her post didn’t bash agriculture too badly, but a lot of the commenters were…quite passionate about their stances on topics ranging from big ag, no-GMOs, antibiotic-free, cage-free, range-free, hormone-free.  Let’s just say they were not opinion-free.

I am not a frequent blog commenter (although y’all should totally comment here).  Sometimes I’ll add a few words of encouragement to an author, but I rarely engage in dialogue in the comments.  But, I knew if I didn’t say anything on this post, I would regret it later.  So I added a simple, polite comment, encouraging her (and the other commenters) to get in touch with a farmer to ask questions and learn more about where her family’s food comes from.  I shared a link to the resources on the CauseMatters site, and wished her well on her journey.

My hands were shaking as I hit publish.  It was maybe 3 sentences total, and I had proofread carefully.  I was confident in my kind approach and knew I was doing the right thing.  But it was scary!

***

Earlier this week, a new friend asked about my job.  I explained what Chad and I do and the barns we visit, and she said, “Oh, like factory farms.”   Well.

I explained to her that over 90% of livestock raised for food are raised by family farmers (I’ve seen so many varying numbers on this, I usually estimate low).  While technological advances and large corporations definitely play a role in the food chain and the industry, the pigs we visit are well cared for.  It’s all part of the abundant, safe, affordable food supply we all enjoy so much.

We continued with our friendly conversation and moved on to other topics, but even that brief bit was kind of hard – my heart was beating faster than normal, honestly.  I know that what we do is important.  I know that farmers care well for their animals.  I know all these things. I have seen these things first hand.  But it can still hard sharing them with people who have preconceived notions or a different perspective.

***

Chad and I visited an old college friend while we were traveling last week.  She has a toddler, and pulled out organic milk from the refrigerator to pour her little girl a cupful.  She and her husband drink conventional milk, but she buys organic for her daughter “because of the hormones.”  She asked us what we thought of that (we had previously been discussing family decisions and budgeting and food) and I told her that I personally felt like it was a waste of money.

I told her that both our bodies and cows produce so many hormones naturally, and it seems silly to me to worry about any minor added hormones.  I told her I didn’t know the exact amounts in milk, but that cabbage naturally has way more hormones than beef even.  I referenced an M&M jar example showing various hormone levels that I had seen through Common Ground, and she found that really interesting.

But I also told her that at the end of the day, we support consumer choice, and if buying organic milk feels important to her, than go for it.  That conversation was easier, as their family has a farming background, but it’s still a little awkward.

***

The food industry as a whole, and agriculture included, is in a tricky, uncomfortable place right now.  There’s social pressure to change the way things have always been done.  Undercover videos, op-ed pieces, investigative briefs, marketing ploys – the media can seem cruel and unfair.  There’s internal industry pressure to open your doors, start a blog, make a video, spread the word, sing a catchy song.  And that’s definitely part of the solution.

People involved in agriculture and the production of our food supply need to tell their own stories in whatever way they can. I mean, I have a blog, clearly.  I hope the things I write here inform and encourage. There’s power in creative messaging, for sure.  But we’re not all cut out for a Beyonce cover.  We’re not all called to write for HuffPost or open an interactive museum.  We’re not all skilled in video production or on-camera debates.  So maybe, just maybe, we can do our part – I can do my part – by being brave with the everyday conversations.