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Stories from the valley

The Best and the Brightest

Contributed by Dan Macon

girl with sheepOur oldest daughter Lara has just stated her senior year of high school.  She’s an amazing kid – fortunately, she inherited her mother’s good looks AND intelligence!  Between her college entrance exam scores and her high school grades, she’ll be able to go wherever she chooses for college.  She’s also been an active member of her Future Farmers of America chapter, serving as a chapter officer last year and a sectional officer this year.  Because of her FFA experience (and, probably, because of her family experience), she wants to study sustainable agriculture or international agriculture development in college.  While Sami and I are thrilled, she’s had less encouragement from her non-agriculturally focused teachers and advisors.  Farming, it seems, would be a waste of her considerable talents.  In some ways, the feedback that she’s received adds to the old cliché: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, farm.

This attitude, I think, traces its origins to the overwhelming success of farming and ranching.  Most of us, thankfully, don’t need to worry about growing our own food – a professional class of farmers and ranchers does the work for us.  Agriculture, in other words, allows all other professions to exist – once individuals could grow enough food for their communities, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other “professionals” could devote their time to less “mundane” tasks.  Yet despite it’s importance (and perhaps because of its success) farming remains an avocation that is less prestigious (at least from the perspective of the high school guidance counselors in our community) than these other professions.

As a “practicing” farmer, I find the intellectual challenges of producing food to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job.  I once tried to write my own job description – after hearing that sheepherders were considered “unskilled” for purposes of U.S. immigration policy.  Over the course of a year, I perform the following jobs:

  • Veterinarian
  • Ovine, bovine, equine and canine behavioralist
  • Accountant
  • Ovine and bovine midwife
  • Range scientist
  • Meteorologist
  • Economist
  • Agronomist
  • Irrigation engineer
  • Mechanic
  • Marketing specialist

I could go on, but I think you get the point – farmers and ranchers must master many skills and abilities to be able to produce food and fiber.

Which brings me back to my daughter.  I don’t know if she’ll end up farming or ranching, but I’m encouraged that an intelligent, thoughtful and energetic young person sees opportunity in agriculture.  I hope that those who are counseling her will begin to see the importance of encouraging our brightest students to grow food (and to help those who grow food).  I hope that her generation comes up with a new cliché: Those who can, farm.  Those who can farm well, teach others how to do it!