Having completed my junior year at Truman State University, I’ve learned about a myriad of academic subjects — English, history, physics, chemistry, biology, philosophy and more.
But, in spite of the breadth of my education, one of the most glaring holes was the field of agriculture. I’ve never lived on a farm, never worked on a farm and, until a few weeks ago, didn’t even know which crops are classified as row crops. If I weren’t able to purchase my food at grocery stores, I’d undoubtedly starve.
This summer is hardly a break from my education — if anything, it’s been an educational experience more demanding than ever. This time, I’m not learning about Russian literature or about the philosophy of Kant. No, my education with Missouri Farm Bureau has been more down and dirty, one might say.
It’s been nothing short of a crash course in Missouri agriculture. I’m still naive compared to my interviewees, but I’m learning from the best. I’m speaking with those who grow everything from asparagus to zucchini, and people who farm more acres than there are words in this editorial. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about differences in irrigation practices, about different breeds of cattle and what daily life on a farm is like.
I feel as if I’m a youth excitedly peeking over the fence in the neighbor’s yard, glimpsing how others live. Almost daily I come upon unfamiliar lingo, and I have gotten used to asking for clarification when farmers assume I have an agricultural background. And, I accept that I’ll probably never have the expertise to rope cattle with the grace of many Missouri ranchers, and I might never be able to grow much more than the few herbs and pepper plants in my garden. As someone who grew up without a farming background, like so many 21st century Americans, I will always have plenty to learn about agriculture.
Still, I sometimes think my unusual background is a blessing in disguise at an agricultural organization. I have a perspective that allows me to understand, in a way that many farmers never could, why so many of my urban counterparts are confused about what a genetically modified organism is, why some people wrongly condemn conventional farming practices and why some are unduly concerned about regulating oft-dry land under the EPA’s proposed Waters of the United States rule. If my education this summer has taught me anything, it’s that farmers are clamoring to have their voices heard, not to swindle the American public but to continue providing for the nation that has provided so much for them.
Perhaps, as an intern in the Public Affairs department, my background puts me in a perfect position to explain farmers’ ways of life to urban America. Perhaps this is what my supervisor saw when he chose the unlikely internship candidate with no farming background.
And, as I continue to learn about Missouri farmers’ ways of life, I can’t help but feel an obligation. Just as Missouri farmers feel an obligation to be just stewards of their lands, I feel an obligation to be a just steward of my growing knowledge about agriculture. If I can’t feed America, I’ll work to ensure we respect and cherish those that can.
Robert Overmann, of Cape Girardeau, is a student at Truman State University and a summer intern for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.