Amber Morin was raised on her family’s cattle ranch in Southeastern, AZ. This experience sparked her interest and career path in natural resource management, agricultural policy, and agriculture communications. She has worked with the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, Arizona’s Natural Resource Conservation Districts, and continues to promote agriculture through her current position at the Arizona Farm Bureau. Whenever time permits, she is back at the ranch helping her family run their beef business, running trails in preparation for “fun runs,” or writing.
Here are her thoughts on the urban agriculture divide and why we are all more alike than different.
Agriculture has been taking place for the last 10,000 years, and yet, ranchers and farmers are now the minority? What the heck happened?
With agriculture, humans traded the harsh uncertainty of nomadic life for the somewhat more predictable and controllable agrarian lifestyle. An improvement, for sure. In exchange for their time and dedication to caring for plants and animals, humans were afforded more abundant food supplies, health, wealth, leisure, and the ability to trade for goods that could not be grown in their home climates. In short, agricultural abundance improved lives. It still does.
All of this happened because humans are smart, they experiment, they adapt, and find answers to questions, sometimes out of curiosity and most of the time out of necessity. Agriculture changed the way humans live and it wasn’t long before humans all over the world were adapting to agriculture methods on some level. This took place for 10,000 years, and yet, in a mere two centuries, the same curiosity and/or necessity also brought about another rapid change, the movement away from agrarian lifestyles to industrial lifestyles, and now to what pessimists call virtual lifestyles and optimists call entrepreneurial lifestyles.
To break the rapid change down for the readers who love numbers, in 1790, about 90% of the American workforce was related to agriculture. In 1890, that number had dropped to about 43%. In 1990 about 2.6% of the population’s workforce was related to agriculture. Now that number has dropped to about 2%. As people moved out of rural America to pursue an improved lifestyle in urban areas, agricultural advancements have made it possible for 2% of the population to feed the masses.
Why is this important? While about 2% of the population clothes and feeds us, we can do other things with our lives and pursue other careers, and not worry about where our next meal is going to come from. If it were not for ranchers and farmers, most of us would be struggling like the unfortunate souls on the show Naked and Afraid! Although I must admit, there are some very tough people that participate! But, would anyone really want to live that way? Or, go hungry because their backyard garden failed due to a pest infestation? I know what my answer is: an emphatic, no!
Thanks to the ingenuity of agriculturalists, technological advancements and improvements in the industry, and the dedication and care that agriculturalists have for their businesses, we live great lives without a lot of worries. The few feed the many. And, it takes an insurmountable amount of dedication to thrive in the agricultural industry when things like global markets, local markets, weather, genetics, natural resources, financial constraints, and the unpredictability of caring for crops and livestock are just a few of the challenges. Being an agriculturalist requires a high degree of intelligence, resilience, and faith in oneself, in the future, and in the process.
My own dad knew this when he said to both my sister and me, “You can always come back, but you can’t always leave.” This was a gentle but very blatant way of telling us, this path takes grit and serious dedication, so go and experience life before you make the commitment to come back and manage the ranch. And, when you come back, bring what you have learned to make it better. Like all parents, ours wanted the best for my sister and me. They encouraged us to grow, learn, and improve.
So, when I asked the question, what the heck happened? How did Americans get so far removed from agriculture? It’s simple and it’s practical. Like the nomadic lifestyle, the agrarian lifestyle was not easy. It is still not easy, so Americans changed, and the industrial revolution which made promises of wealth and lifestyle improvements spurred that change. It was the anticipation of an improved future that moved most people out of rural America and into urban centers. At the end of the day, no one can be blamed for trying to improve one’s life or that of their loved ones.
Today’s “entrepreneurial revolution” coined by Seth Godin promises an even better future for Americans, as the ability to market goods, build wealth, and have more control of our lives is at our fingertips via smartphones.
This same optimism has spurred the technological advancements and environmental improvements in agriculture. We want to improve, be more precise, waste less and have more controlled data-driven outcomes. In the case of food production, doing our best is a necessity because we are not just feeding our families, and yours, with less labor and inputs, we are also feeding the world. Doing less than our best, with so many people who trust us for a safe and reliable food supply, is simply not an option.
Just as the public has always been looking to improve, agriculturalists have too!
The reality is, we are all working toward the same goal – to do our best!
– Amber Morin