Texas farmers worry non-farmers misunderstand them, but a new website designed to address the problem suggests the cultural confusion may cut both ways.
The Texas Department of Agriculture this week unveiled its "Agriculture is Your Culture" campaign, an educational program centered on a website featuring examples of how farmers contribute to food safety and land preservation. An image on the site's home page shows a smiling rancher astride a paint horse, labeled "OUR way of life," alongside a portrait of a surly, beret-topped fashionista with her hip cocked, labeled "YOUR way of life."
Farmers and ranchers have decided to take on the city dweller and her outspoken cohorts, says TDA spokesperson Veronica Obregon. They're hoping to finally correct what they believe are common misperceptions about their industry -- and fend off burdensome regulations in the process.
"Frankly, they feel now is the time to be vocal," Obregon says. "Their message isn't getting out there."
The TDA began developing the "Agriculture is Your Culture" program about a year ago, in response to industry concerns. "The agriculture industry was getting attacked," Obregon explains, pointing to reports of poor environmental practices by farmers and ranchers.
"Agriculture is Your Culture allows ranchers like me to tell the true story of the beef industry and combat the many myths circulated by these radical groups," a release quotes Dave Scott, rancher and president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, as saying.
"The call to action right now for all Texans is just to learn more about agriculture," Obregon says. "We have many people right now criticizing agriculture, and the myths from these anti-agriculture activists are steering legislation down the wrong path."
As an example, Obregon cites the Environmental Protection Agency's interest in regulating dust.
"Farmers and ranchers have always been good stewards of the environment," she says. "They need these resources."
What they don't need, according to Obregon, is additional government regulation.
"If we see more unfunded mandates coming through, we'll see farms shutting down," she warns.
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Despite the TDA's contention that many Texans harbor anti-agricultural feelings, small farms have lately been the subject of much celebration. Farmers' markets are exceedingly popular, and locavore events sponsored by Dallas' Chefs for Farmers -- including this Sunday's "farm to tray" dinner -- have been hot tickets in the food community. Yet Obregon dismisses any suggestion that anti-agricultural sentiment is reserved for industrial farms.
"Most of our farms and our ranches are family-owned," she says. "People forget where their food comes from."
As the next step in the campaign, the TDA will release an "Agriculture is Your Culture" icon.
"Pretty soon, you'll see icons on everyone's website," Obregon promises, ticking off names of major industry trade groups. "The industry is really proud of this campaign."