The passage of Amendment 1, the Farming Rights Amendment, is great news for the future of Missouri agriculture. Although the vote was close, a majority of Missouri voters understood the issue and voiced their support for farmers. August 5th was a win for everyone who eats, as well. Our food supply is more secure because of the vote; we farmers will be able to continue doing what we do best, producing good food on family farms all across our state.
The news wasn’t all good. Although we received tremendous support from the rural counties where people know and trust farmers, we didn’t fare as well with voters in Missouri’s major cities. We lost in St. Louis and Kansas City for the very same reasons that the amendment was necessary: A generation of books, films, television shows and magazine articles has cast farmers as uncaring about the environment and the animals in their care. That’s why our opponents’ campaign, which was equal parts the worst kind of populism and jingoism, was so effective. Their ads worked because the ground had been prepared by unending attacks on agriculture from editorial boards and documentary makers willfully ignorant about farming.
As a farmer, I know I must have access to the best practices because if I don’t, I can’t compete with farmers in other places and other nations. I know those practices also make me a better steward of the environment and help keep food prices low. Consumers don’t know those things, and I haven’t been very good at telling them. Even though farmers in this state have never worked as hard on a campaign as they have in the past few weeks, there is more work to be done.
Farmers need to visit with consumers and enter the national conversation about food. It is essential to their future. Reaching out to the voters who voted “no” is as important as planting next year’s crop.
With our electoral success comes responsibility. We must continue to improve stewardship of our land and animals, because the victory we won can be lost in an instant unless we maintain the highest standards of care. In fact, we have to get better.
We have to get better at reaching out to our natural allies: the people who care how much food costs. In developing countries, many struggle with putting food on the table 365 days a year. They lack the income or resources to feed themselves and their families. In Missouri, it’s easy to suffer from a “first world” point of view and think that hunger doesn’t happen here. We have to remember there are those all over our state who struggle to make ends meet. The least we can do is keep their food choices abundant and affordable. For those who can afford artisan apples and heirloom tomatoes, farmers are more than willing to meet that demand. But for those who cannot, farmers have to make sure they have a voice in the conversation. We have to ally ourselves with those who most depend upon us. That’s the real work left to be done with the passage of Amendment 1.
Blake Hurst, of Westboro, Mo., is the president of Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.