Radke Report: Meaningful change starts in our hometowns

Amanda Radke
The Radke Report

I read a poignant social media post the other day written by a sixth-generation cattle woman that really resonated with me.

She shared about how her family’s cattle ranch was 125+ years old and how, through blood, sweat and tears, the generations that came before her had built the operation — acquiring land, improving cattle genetics, diversifying with forage crops, adding in water pipelines, implementing rotational grazing, and striving for continual improvement each year.

She shared that she was the last remaining member of the family tree. Her father had recently passed, and her grandparents were long gone. No other family members had stuck around to tend to the business, and it was up to her to keep things going.

It was a blessing and a burden all at once. She shared the struggles of how her dad didn’t want to pass on the debts, the old tractors, the sagging fences or the barely standing farmhouse, but it was what he had, and she was willing to carry the load.

She expressed how proud she was that her family members had taught her how to weather the toughest storms, the most volatile markets, the breakdowns, the train wrecks, the mistakes and the heartaches. They had endured nearly every hurdle and were still standing.

That ability to stand tall against the most challenging adversaries is simply the “cowboy way,” one that’s been engrained in many of us since birth. There’s no blizzard, tornado, hail storm or drought that could keep us from planting the seeds, caring for newborn babies, and protecting the land that we call “home.”

And yet, that burden can be a heavy load, especially when profits are scarce, input costs are skyrocketing, politicians are intent to put you out of business, and the general public thinks you’re awful and up to no good.

It can be defeating to defend what’s yours and fight for the future, knowing there are so many struggles ahead and realizing that the pay for your work is oftentimes incredibly bleak.

I get it. I’m sure you do, too. We’ve all been there wondering why we do what we do, and we’ve all wrestled with trying to decide if we are simply prideful, egotistical, or just plum crazy to continue this difficult course that is ahead of us.

This woman shared that she was done. She felt the weight of defeat. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but the pressures to keep the family business afloat were pressing heavily on her shoulders, and she wasn’t quite sure how to move forward.

For so many of us, production agriculture is so deeply entwined in our identities and how we see ourselves in this world, and yet, it’s this same industry that can absolutely crush us.

I’m deeply saddened to see so many farm and ranch families calling it quits. When I travel the country to speak, it troubles me to see small towns scattered across rural America with abandoned shops on their Main Streets.

I mourn what was and wonder how we can reclaim that piece of the American dream. I refuse to accept that small family farms and ranches will go by the wayside like the dinosaurs. And while I understand that desire for an easier life, I am also becoming increasingly motivated to fight for a future where these small businesses can thrive.

And it starts with each one of us committing to keeping our dollars circulating at home in rural America.

Shop the mom-and-pop store on Main Street instead of choosing the one-click, two-day ship option online.

Trade, barter and purchase goods from people in your local communities. If you’ve got beef to sell, surely your neighbor might have fruits, vegetables or honey.

Encourage young people not to leave in droves, but to stay at home and invest their time, talent and treasures into their small towns. Keep multi-generational families together, small churches open, and communities being the “village” to help raise young children and support new parents.

It’s going back to the basics. It’s being “old fashioned” on purpose. It’s choosing slow and simple instead of fast and cheap. It’s focusing on quality, local and community. It’s keeping your dollars invested and circulating at home. It’s choosing the harder path — the one with more resistance — knowing that this is the way to harvest the best fruit.

I don’t want to read one more defeated cowgirl’s testimony on social media. I want to restore, renew and recharge these farm and ranch families to continue the course with intentionality and purpose.

It starts with me. And it starts with you. Let’s change the narrative by changing our shopping habits. Hit up a small business in your hometown today and make a neighbor smile.

Amanda Radke is a fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State University with a degree in agricultural communications, education and leadership, Radke is a blogger for BEEF Daily blog.