10 Most Fascinating People in Farming & Food

Barbara Walters’ final “10 Most Fascinating People” airs tonight.  She’s done this 21 times and this morning I caught the preview teasing viewers with a giggly Miley Cyrus, boisterous Duck Dynasty clan and always grateful Robin Roberts.

It got me to thinking about who would be on my list of 10 Most Fascinating People.  People who are extremely interesting or charming, because that’s the definition of fascinating.

So while cookies baked, gifts wrapped and dishes dried, I put together a list – the 10 Most Fascinating People in Farming & Food.  This is my list, so take it or leave it or nominate your own fascinations in the comments section below. 

10) The little girl in Dodge’s “So God Made A Farmer” commercial

Can a 2013 Top 10 list about agriculture even be a list without mentioning the commercial seen and heard ‘round the world?  But because this is a list about people, I’ll focus on my favorite image from the commercial – the girl literally out standing in her field.  It was that shot that caught my heart, my breath and every piece of grit that evolved this Illinois farm girl into today’s farm woman. Girl Power!

9) Peterson Farm Brothers

Again, can a list about ag be a legit list without these guys?!  Greg, Nathan, and Kendal fall into the category of interesting and charming.  Not only are they great at what they do, they seem to have kept their eye to the sky, giving a nod to the Big Guy regardless of their audience.  That’s the charming part.

8) The Scarecrow

Sticking with the visual/video theme, I include Chipolte’s Scarecrow on my list because of the intended firestorm it created in the farm/food communities.  The fantastical world of the Scarecrow was just that – fantastical – interesting, very far from charming, and truthful about nothing.  Unfortunately, whether the video was considered a win or not for Chipolte, it forced other restaurateurs into the sticky business of labeling.

As I discovered during my time at the MUFSO (Multi Food Service Operators) Super Show, the majority of restaurant owners would rather avoid the labeling debate and just serve good food.  Farmers and restaurateurs share many commonalities.  We’re bookends to the food chain – one that preferably does not include The Scarecrow.

7) Stella from Hawaii

This summer Stella called late one night to ask why I would ruin our farm with GMOs?


Yes, this happened.  9:30 p.m.  I was in my pjs half asleep on the couch, in. my. HOME.

Stella’s call came on the heels of our visit to Hawaii where we joined other farmers to talk about the benefits of biotechnology on our farms.  We discovered a war raging in the 50th state.

Stella represented just one faction of the anti-movement on the islands.  The farm/food conversation, if it could even be classified as such, is gripped by a mob mentality.  Anything that has to do with anything – gmos, fertilizers, crop improvement, “big ag”, research – anything is bad.  The effort to banish modern agriculture in the name of building a sustainable Hawaii has reached a scary fevered pitch.  The repercussions of the anti-movement’s efforts on the islands are very real for those of us who farm here on the mainland but even more real for our fellow Americans who live and work in agriculture on the islands.  They need our support.  Now is the time to pay attention and consider accepting those calls from folks like Stella.

6)  Mark Lynas

Mark Lynas is a leader in climate change conversation and in his younger years had taken a hardline against biotechnology.  He claimed responsibility for the destruction of GMO research trials and field tests , but earlier this year he stunned the agriculture and environment communities when he came “out” so to speak and admitted that maybe he was wrong about GMOs.

Wow! Whether you agree with the guy or not, what courage that took to change stride in such a volatile stream as the biotech/GMO debate.  His actions make me question my own every time I click away from yet another facebook/twitter attempt at conversing.  Am I lacking courage or am I just smart to walk away?

5) Howard Buffett

I hope people will come to recognize Howard Buffett more for his efforts at battling global food insecurity than for his gene pool (i.e. his father).  I’m reading his book 40 Chances and will be writing about it soon.  Mr. Buffett is a farmer, philanthropist and futuristic thinker.  Anyone who thinks they have a right to say something about farms and food needs to read this book.  Mr. Buffett challenges all of us – no labels attached – to do better.

Regardless if you’ve given a billion dollars to fight a cause or if you’ve just been given a life on this earth, we have a responsibility to do better today than we did yesterday.  You don’t need a billion dollars to be a better farmer. You just need the heart and brain that God gave you.  Use ‘em.

4)   Illinois Field Moms

The Illinois Farm Families project is a few years old now and this is the second class of Field Moms, a group of urban and suburban moms who have questions about food.  Through the project, they visit working farms to meet real farmers and ask their questions.  The “ah-ha” moments, the questions, the answers, the observations – we all can learn from them.  Read their blogs here at watchusgrow.org.

3)   The folks who say no . . . to everything

I am fascinated by this group of people who claim to want better, but refuse to actually come together and work for it.  I’m talking about the group (and I’m lumping a bunch of individuals, organizations and movements into one) who assumes to know the story of every farmer, and assumes that if said farmer has chosen to use gm-seed, fertilizers and pesticides, then said farmer is bad.  If said farmer chooses to raise pigs or poultry in a barn, then said farmer is bad.

I’m not sure how to function in a world when the my-way-or-the-highway mentality is so prevalent.  How do we find common ground, if everything I say is wrong to the other party?  As a farmer and agriculture advocate, I’m not out to change minds necessarily, but to share information so that opinions can be formed based on fact and experience instead of a singular conspiracy theory.

2)  Ag Advocates

This list is long and strong.  Instead of linking to some and then feeling really bad because I’ll miss a bunch, I’ll link to MPK’s Cause Matters.  Michele Payn-Knoper, a leading ag advocate, has compiled quite the list of blogs and resources here.

This group of farmers and ranchers who have taken to the airwaves and social media chaos are pretty darn special.  They support choice in agriculture and in the grocery store.  They work hard on their own farms, but harder for the rights for all farmers and ranchers.  They share pictures, stories, information and are always open for a conversation.

1)  My Farmer

Yes, My Farmer is #1 on my list.  Insert collective “awwwww”s or eyerolls.  I put him as number one because I believe he represents the American farmer.  And I find farmers fascinating people.

Unlike so many folks today, they are not in search of their 15 minutes of fame, but unwillingly have found it via the public spotlight on farming and ranching.

For many farmers, the act of farming has been happening on their land or in their pastures longer than any flash-in-the-pan fads that seem to drive food conversations these days.

They shy from the focus, not because there is something to hide, but because there is something to do.  There’s always something to do on their farms.  And it’s irksome when an amateur feels important enough to point a finger for no other reason than to start a fight.  The amateur should stop for a cup of coffee and a conversation.  Farmers are very open in that way.

My Farmer is focused on his fields, his family’s legacy seven generations strong, and his future.  Our farm boy and fairy farm princess deserve the opportunity to try their hand at this unforgiving risky business called farming.  And so my farmer will farm, as will my dad, my father-in-law, my brother and brother-in-law.  As will so many other farmers and ranchers.  They will meet the challenges, win some and lose some and keep farming.

A fascinating lot, farmers are.

My farm boy is fascinating to this mama. One day maybe he'll be on someone's list, because he's always on mine.

My farm boy is fascinating to this mama. One day maybe he’ll be on someone’s list, because he’s always on mine.

4 responses to “10 Most Fascinating People in Farming & Food

  1. Katie, excellent list. I love everyone and group you highlighted but had a moment of laughter to the ones that say no to everything! It also warmed me that your farmer is number one. You have your priorities straight and through this list that is clear. Keep up the great work and sharing! Merry Christmas.

  2. Katie, I missed this the first time – maybe in the rush of Christmas – but I was so glad it surfaced today on social media. A great list and I’m with KPinke; I smiled at the ones who say no to everything. I have 40 Chances on my reading list, too. Your writing is always so thoughtful; I appreciate that very much. Wishing you good conversations in the New Year!

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