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Expect unexpected when telling ag’s story

It was a Sunday tradition in my childhood home almost as important as attending church on Sunday morning – turning on CBS television on every Sunday evening for Candid Camera.

From 1960 to 1967, Allen Funt had the top-rated TV program in the nation. His hidden cameras caught ordinary people in the most unordinary situations. Funt and his crew would develop elaborate hoaxes and then record with hidden cameras, the all too human reactions of unsuspecting people. It was the original reality show and spawned such modern-day programs as Funniest Home Videos. Funt would always end each program with a warning,

“Remember somehow, somewhere, when you least expect it, someone may say to you, ‘Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.’”
This is a warning you may want to keep in mind if you plan to be involved in any of this week’s Agriculture Week activities.

I have long been an advocate of those involved in agriculture being a spokesperson for their industry. As the food and fiber production system has become the target of more and more activist groups, more and more producers are getting involved and speaking up for their industry, both on the local and national level.
Yet some producers have not been prepared for what awaits them when they speak up.

Recently, an Indiana farm leader wrote an editorial for the Indianapolis Star. It set forth with accuracy the truth about modern pork production. As is the case today, the newspaper also published the editorial on its website, which lets readers post comments about specific articles. Quick to take the opportunity, members of the local animal activist nutcase organizations posted dozens of comments blasting the pro-pork editorial. I have also heard of a livestock producer who was invited into a nearby school to do a presentation on animal agriculture. When he arrived at the class, he learned that he would follow a 20-minute movie produced by PETA.

Once, my wife and I were attending a business meeting hosted by an agricultural organization. We had been hired to write the text for a book about agriculture. The book was to be illustrated by a group of artists, who would paint pictures of agriculture to accompany the text. When I suggested a painting be made of a sawmill to represent the Indiana hardwood industry, one of the artists became visibly upset and accused me of being one of those people who cut down trees. I was about to respond by asking her where the heck she thought the wood that framed her art came from, but a sharp jab in the ribs from my wife kept me silent and probably kept us from getting fired.

Suffice it to say, if you stand up for agriculture today, you will draw some heat. Robert F. Kennedy, head of the infamous Waterkeepers Alliance, unashamedly calls pork producers “terrorists.” Yet, far from dissuading you from speaking up, this should demonstrate the necessity of speaking up as loud and as long as you can.

Even if you are the timid type, there is something you can do this week – write a letter to your local newspaper. The letter to the editor is a great way to start standing up for agriculture. Activist groups use this tactic to get their message out. Recently, an anti-agriculture letter appeared in more than 30 newspapers across the country. It was the same letter, word for word, but each was signed by a local activist.

How about if local newspapers across the Midwest each got five or even 10 letters that were pro-agriculture. It only takes a few minutes. The address and name of the editor is published in every paper. Just make it positive and factually correct; oh, and be sure to sign your name. If enough people do this, perhaps something unexpected will happen – people will read what you have to say and believe it.
This farm news was published in the March 21, 2007 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.