Radke Report: Celebrating America’s unsung heroes
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity the serve as the master of ceremonies at an incredible event held just a few hours down the road from me in Yankton, S.D.
The event was a pre-harvest celebration hosted by a group called Families Feeding Families, which is an organization that was started by a group of local farmers who faced litigation, bullying, intimidation, smear campaigns and outright attacks from an animal rights group that had come into town to target the agriculturalists in the area.
It was a tough battle — both legally, economically, and emotionally — and after three years of fighting these animal rights extremists, they left town just as fast as they came and the tension and strife in the rural area has died down, at least for now.
For Families Feeding Families, that particular battle may be over, but they are as passionate as ever about connecting with the urban consumers in their community and for sharing their agricultural production stories with as many folks who will listen.
They host community events serving barbecued beef and pork. They invite folks out for farm tour opportunities. They read agricultural books in elementary schools. And they invite in high-caliber speakers to tackle tough subjects and foster an opportunity for producers and consumers alike to grow and learn together as a community.
And that’s what led me to speak and lead the Families Feeding Families event that was recently held. During the event, they awarded three scholarships to students pursuing careers in agricultural fields. They held a live and silent auction to raise funds for future events. And they featured a nationally-celebrated speaker, Paul Mobley, to present on his project, “American Farmer”
Mobley published a book titled, “American Farmer: The Heart of our Country,” in 2008. To create this stunning coffee table book, this New York City-based photographer traveled 100,000 miles and spent three years photographing hundreds of farmers and ranchers all over America.
The same year it was published, “American Farmer” was chosen as one of the top ten art and photography books of 2008. Since then, Mobley, who has also photographed Hollywood celebrities and entertainers, spends a great deal of time traveling the country sharing the amazing stories of the farmers and ranchers he met in his travels.
In the opening of his speech, Mobley said, “My ‘American Farmer’ book was a life-changing accident. You see, I’m a city boy. I do photography in New York, and I had never set foot on a farm in my life. But four years ago, I decided I needed a break — a break from the big city and from photography. So I packed my car, threw the dog in the backseat, and decided to spend one entire summer at my camera in Michigan and not take one single picture."
“Well, in town, there’s a small coffee shop, and I had been going there for years. On that particular day, I walked into the coffee shop, and saw four farmers sitting at a table. I saw their faces, and everything changed. I knew I had to photograph those faces.”
Over the course of the summer, Mobley photographed every farmer in the county, and he took those images back to his publisher in New York City. She loved the photographs and thought they would be the making of a great book, but since there were only 30 farmers featured, Mobley hit the road, traveling the countryside from Alaska to Louisiana to Florida and Maine, visiting farm and ranches along the way and capturing stunning images with each stop.
“The book is a celebration of America’s unsung heroes,” said Mobley. “These are the men and women who put food on our table.”
In his speech, Mobley shared incredible stories of the people in rural America, and the theme at every stop was the same. “No matter where you go, these people cared,” he said.
I don’t think America’s food producers need a reminder of how kind-hearted, generous and loving folks can be along the gravel roads we call home. However, it was a powerful reminder that if folks outside of our small towns had the chance to get to know us, despite the powerful propaganda out there speaking to the contrary, they would fall in love with America’s farmers and ranchers, too.
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.