In the three years that I have been a part of the operation, I have seen the questions that are asked change. Sometimes I feel myself get on the defensive, but then I take a cleansing breath and compose myself and explain how a farm works. One of the most common questions asked on our farm is, "Do the cows ever go outside?" My answer is, "While the cow is lactating (milking) she stays in the barn." I have seen quizzical looks to outright disgust with that answer. However, once I explain to our visitors why it is better for the cow to be inside versus outside they understand. For those of you wondering why we keep our cows inside, here is my explanation. #1, there are very few idyllic days to be outside... Too hot, too cold, too muddy... #2 There are very few flies in our barn. Because we clean the barn daily, there is no place for fly larvae to hatch. There are not biting flies in the barn. #3 We can keep the cows clean which leads to less mastitis, a very painful infection, in our cows because they sleep on clean beds.#4 We can be assured that our cows are getting the proper nutrition. When a cow is out on pasture, they may eat too much of one thing and not enough of another thing. #5 We want our cows to be comfortable. They lay on sand beds in a barn with almost 40 fans.
Another question that has changed over the years is, "are you organic?" I answer, "no" and that would be the end of it. Now it is, "Why aren't you?" This one is actually an easier one... "There is no market for organic milk in this area." By going organic, it would increase our expenses and there would be no premium for the milk that we raise." People are surprised by this answer. Since our visitors read so much about how organic is perceived to be better (nutritiously and environmental) they just assume everyone wants it. Sometimes, I feel like I teach economics 101, supply and demand.
As farmers, most of us just know stuff. Some examples are, in order for a cow to produce milk the cow must be a.) female, b) Must have a calf. It cannot be assumed that everyone knows this. One statistic says that people are 3 generations removed from the farm. Another example of stuff we just know is: many conventional farmers use manure to fertilize their fields. This is another misconception perpetrated by information on the internet that only organic farmers use manure. As a farm that gives many tours a week, we must continually assume that our guests do not know much about farming.
Another question we get is the GMO question. My answer is that we do utilize seeds bred with the the GE breeding technique. After asking why we use GMO seeds. I personalize it with my own concerns. I state, my concern is for water quality. By using seeds bred with herbicide resistance, we are able to practice minimum and no-till practices. When the soil is disturbed and then it rains, soil can erode. If soil is left alone, it has a better chance of not eroding when it rains. Soil that runs into streams takes nutrients with it. We want the nutrients to stay in the field, not runoff into the drainage ditches. If we did not use this modern technology, we would need to till the soil more often to kill the weeds.
Consumers only hear on the internet how "bad" glyphosate is. I stay away from the chemical and relate the benefits of soil that stays in its place. Every once in awhile, I do get someone that pushes the argument further. Then I go back to economics 101 course. There is no market for non-GMO crops in our area. If we are going to a greater expense, use tilling practices that cause us to loose more of our topsoil, spray more chemicals, then it must be cost effective for us to raise these crops. However, there is no monetary incentive for us to grow specialty crops.
While I try to explain modern farming practices to our visitors, it is hard to combat the mountains if information and misinformation out on the internet with what we do on our farm. However, if we can education one visitor, one child, or better yet, one family, then I feel that we are making a difference.