Proud to Dairy

My Little Voice…And How 4-H Has Helped Me Listen To It

Engage, ignore....engage, ignore....engage, ignore...

The options tumble through my mind like clothes in a dryer. On one hand, I couldn't be more excited to shout from the rooftops everything I love about agriculture and the people who feed our world. They're intelligent, adaptable, realistic dreamers with boots in the dirt but a small part of their hearts always in the clouds - never getting too comfortable in the present, but rather, looking toward the future and envisioning changes that could make them better, stronger, faster, more efficient, and more capable stewards and providers of our world and its people. Engage, my little voice urges. The average American, being two to four generations removed from the farm, deserves to hear about this daring and diverse two percent who feeds the world. 

We all have a "little voice". I'm not sure if it comes from our head or our heart, or if it's a direct line between the two, but that "little voice" is something I believe everyone should listen to every once in a while.

But then, just as I'm ready to take that last deep breath before sharing my passion with the world, I hear my little voice again. Ignore, it chides. You'll never change everyone's mind. Some people just don't want to hear what you have to say, anyway.

And then I think that maybe, just maybe, my little voice is right. Who could possibly care about what I, a girl who didn't even grow up on a farm, has to say about the complicated intricacies of feeding a growing world on resources that continue to dwindle? What sense does it make to even try?

Sometimes, even our own little voices can give off some mixed signals. And that's when it's up to us to choose our own path. Engage or ignore....engage or ignore? Which will it be? 

Tonight, a Facebook friend posted a link to an article by Nina Kahn, a coordinator of a program organized and paid for by PETA. Her article,  Animals pay a high price in 4-H, was what many people would call "short and sweet"...but the taste it left in my mouth couldn't have been more rancid.

Nina writes:

"...instead of being taught that pigs are smart enough to learn how to unlock gates and that mother pigs sing to their young while nursing, children are told to fatten them up to become "bacon." Rather than explaining that calves who are taken from their mothers shake and bawl inconsolably because they are frantic and traumatized, kids are told to turn them into good breeders. We force children participating in 4-H programs to close their eyes to the fact that they are betraying an animal they've befriended - a fellow being whose trust they've courted. They're told to "celebrate" as their friend is auctioned off to the highest bidder. In short, they're forced to harden a piece of their hearts."

I know that, like me, Nina has a "little voice". And, like me, Nina does what she can to live a life that helps her and little voice sleep soundly at night. What saddens me is the fact that, unlike me, Nina doesn't appear to have had the joy of experiencing firsthand, just exactly what it means to "Learn By Doing" as a 4-Her.  Unlike me, Nina doesn't appear to have ever had a friend who proudly donned the blue corduroy jacket that marks an FFA member. And, unlike me, Nina has never known the heartache of watching an animal I loved like a very best friend be sent to slaughter after a successful, productive, beautiful life. Nina has experienced none of these things - and yet, in an internet article consisting of fewer than 500 words, she has the audacity to pass judgement on them. And that is where my likening myself to Nina's intentions ends. 

As a 4-Her, (and a farm kid), an appreciation for the preciousness of life in all its forms is one of the earliest lessons to be learned. God has bestowed upon us so many beautiful, wonderful gifts, and being stewards over them is a big job - one that demands long hours, careful planning, and an open, understanding heart. Droughts happen. Crops fail. Calves get sick. And, once you thought every single thing that could've gone wrong that day already had, the pipes freeze and three separate pieces of equipment break down and your kid needs a ride to baseball practice. And maybe you think to yourself, I'm pretty smart, I could be a teacher or a contractor or a salesman. But within in seconds, you've forgotten that stray thought and have moved on to your now lengthy to-do list because, well, you're running out of daylight. And deep down, you know you wouldn't have it any other way.

My 4-H dairy projects brought me into this wonderful world of agriculture that otherwise would've been lost to me. Growing up showing my dairy calves, heifers, and cows taught me about the importance of patience and diligence. Through my 4-H dairy project, I learned to communicate with someone who speaks a totally different language, and of course learned very quickly of the importance of choosing my battles wisely (those who have ever tried to halter break a calf in the hottest days of summer might know what I'm talking about with that one.) My animals have taught me what it means to have someone depend on you, and to depend on someone else. Being a 4-Her is something I wish I could share with everyone, because the things I have learned during my years as a 4-Her are things I can’t imagine my life without.  All of those times I thought the lessons I was learning were "all about the cows"...I couldn't have been more wrong. Looking back, it was "all about life"...and the cows were just a beautiful addition to that 10-year-and-counting lesson. 

Nina, I respect you for listening to your little voice, because I think we live in a world where too many people suppress theirs. But, I honestly don't know if I'd be able to listen to mine so well if it weren't for all of the smiles, the tears, the love and the heartache that I lived as a 4-Her. And to have someone call all of that a lie is just too upsetting to ignore. So, here I am, out on a limb and attempting, not to change your mind, but to help others who may have read your article understand that there is so much more to agriculture and to 4-H and FFA than the buying and selling of animals - it's about the molding of young minds and hearts....the very same minds and hearts who will one day be the leaders of our world. 

You say that "teaching kids to respect animals for the interesting, sentient beings they are, instead of focusing on how they can be of use to humans, is the kindest lesson of all." 

What I don't think you realize is that growing up in agriculture teaches a lesson even more difficult to learn: a love and respect for animals as the intelligent, interesting, sentient beings that they are, as well as appreciating the necessity of the purpose they serve in feeding the world. I believe that this lesson is, in fact, the kindest lesson of all - and one that more people could benefit from learning. 

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