By Gene HallSustainable agriculture, 4-H

I heard recently from one of those adult 4-H leaders who make this program so great for Texas kids, rural and urban alike. I’m not going to reveal any names or locations because animal rights and environmental extremists can get a little testy when their sacred cows get gored by folks like me, who are agnostics with regard to their green religion.

My friend took a group of kids to one of those places where you learn how to help underdeveloped countries establish subsistence farming. There is good work being done there and in other places like them. If only they could turn off the propaganda machine when they make their presentations to impressionable kids!

The kids had an up close and personal experience with a composting toilet, which engendered a new appreciation for indoor plumbing.

Part of the trip was to learn about sustainable agriculture. That is great, though “sustainable” has become one of the most loaded words in our political vocabulary, meaning whatever you want it to. The same can be said of “factory farm.”

The group was met by a really nice young volunteer who self-described as a farmer. This is literally true, because they were growing things. According to my 4-H friend, they employ some great ideas for growing more with less, so that people who work internationally can share these practices with those struggling to feed themselves and enable those people to have a higher quality of life. My friend said, “It really was great.”

But then, the propaganda machine tripped into gear. The self-described farmer launched into an attack on “factory farms” and “big agriculture.” The approach was subtle, but I’ve heard it thousands of times. “Cow’s milk isn’t as good for humans as goat milk, rabbit meat is a more eco-friendly meat to raise, and then he said that they have steers on the farm who are only grass-fed beef because cattle sent to feedlots are “force-fed corn the last 5 months or so of their lives and then get sick and have to be given lots of antibiotics.”

All of this is, of course, complete nonsense. Anyone who has ever tried to “force feed” corn to a cow could lose a finger or two. Cows love the stuff, and it’s good for their purpose of becoming quality beef. There was no mention that though cows are treated with medicine, including antibiotics, when they get sick, there is no epidemic raging around feedlots or dairy farms. 

It’s becoming an article of faith among anti-agriculture activists that corn makes cows sick. This is a lie, though not everyone who repeats it knows. And of course, every medicine given for completely normal ailments must be discontinued long before the animal becomes food or gives milk. But, as I’ve learned, extremists who take medicine when they get sick are inexplicably opposed to healthy cows.

The “farmer” was not lying, but had ingested the extremist talking points and disgorged them faithfully and robotically. The trouble was, this was a group of rural kids. Some of them were farm kids—real American style farms—and they knew better.

My friend was concerned. She is a farm wife and knew they’d just been shoveled a load of organic fertilizer. She said, “I was so livid, but I knew that I had to hold my tongue in order to avoid a tacky debate in front of an impressionable group of youth, cause I know myself and there was no way to avoid getting a tad bit tacky in this setting. I was just waiting for the ‘farmer’ to say that cattle were responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions all by themselves, but fortunately, he didn’t go there.” The 4-H Club manager said she would address these things with her group at a later time as some were probably really confused because they feed out steers and cattle for show.

But this story has a happy ending. “So last night, at the Club meeting, some of the kids gave a report on their experience,” my friend said.

This report included “them being grossed out by the toilet,”  “there was a farmer wearing skinny jeans,” and (here is the big one…I hope you are ready for this) “We who are involved in agriculture need to do a better job telling our story with the public because there are people out there making it look bad and it isn’t. The ‘farmer’ said cattle are force fed corn and this just isn’t true.”

“WOW!!!” my friend exclaimed. “My 4-H members realize that they have to tell their own stories and let people know that agriculture isn’t as bad as people like our tour guide think it is.”

Not every group who stands in front of this activist “farmer” will know facts from compost.  So all of us in agriculture have to get busy doing what these kids are doing—setting the record straight.

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Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
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2 Responses to “4-H kids get it – Some environmental activists are full of compost!”

  1. My good friend Dan Dierschke had some trouble posting, so I’ll do it for him.

    Gene I have a comment and cannot get past the spam filter tonight. I am certain I typed the two words correctly but nothing happens. It doesn’t reject the submission, it doesn’t take it.

    If you want to use it: …Very gratifying to hear a story of young people being able to discern the truth from the propoganda. My granddaughter attends school in a supposedly rural area but actually has very few school mates who have a clue about agriculture. She is in the sixth grade and I am disheartened by the false information about agriculture her science teacher is continually feeding the students. She knows better and rejects the "compost" but there are rooms full of other kids who don’t have a clue. We individually and collectively have to tell the truth but so very difficult when we do not have the podium or the teacher’s aura.

  2. Joe Daniel says:

    Thanks for the encouraging post. I salute that 4-H leader and club. It is good to know there is a place where kids can get sound science from replicated trials and statistical analysis without foregone conclusions. I fear they don’t get such from most media and classrooms.

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