On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, our friends from PETA held a protest in downtown Rapid City. Their goal was to show people that dairy cows are being abused by the farmers that own them. In addition to this, they were going to be wastefully dumping milk and encouraging everyone else to throw out their dairy products.
With only 24 hours notice, I was able to get several area ranchers to show up for the protest to make ourselves available for media interviews to share the true story of livestock production. Along with that, several ag organizations committed to donating milk to the local food pantry in response. In fact, so far there have been over 1000 gallons of milk (updated as of 12/8/09)committed for donation to food banks in South Dakota. Even though it turned out they weren’t dumping real milk, it’s reckless and irresponsible to suggest that people should waste food when there are some right here in our community that struggle to provide food for their families.
Even though none of the ranchers at the protest were dairy producers, they still showed up to let people know that the things PETA was saying weren’t accurate. I have friends that dairy and have been luck enough to tour several dairies all across the country. I have never seen the abuse and neglect that PETA claims is running rampant at these family farms.
Besides that, the things they were claiming didn’t even make sense. In fact Virginia Fort, the PETA representative at the protest, claimed that since we lived n the 21st century, we no longer needed to utilize any resources that livestock provide us. When asked where our food would come from, she claimed we could be farming the land that cows are currently grazing. I was proud of my brother-in-law when he countered with the question, “So you want us breaking up pristine, native rangeland to start farming it?” Her response was priceless. She said, we might as well break it up because we are letting cows poop on it anyhow. I asked if I could get her on video with that comment and a look of horror crossed her face. She said absolutely not, since she was realizing that she had said something more ridiculous than the standard claims they make.
At that point she declined to visit with us anymore. But as with everything you do in life, there are lessons to be learned. The first lesson is that we have to view these types of things as opportunities to teach people about agriculture. If we hadn’t been there, all of the local media would only have talked to the PETA protesters. Instead, almost without exception, more attention was given to the local farmers and ranchers and their stories than was given to the protesters. Along with that, through the donations to the food bank, we emphasized that not only do we care about our livestock, but we also care about our neighbors that live in our rural communities in South Dakota.
The other lesson that needs to be shared is that these protesters knew nothing about dairy production other than what was printed on their handouts. When we tried to have a conversation about what they were saying, they couldn’t do it. It drives home the point that farmers and ranchers are the experts. We are the ones with the first-hand, lifetime knowledge about agriculture. With modesty to a fault, it’s hard for most of us to go out and tell people that, but we need to. Our consumers want to go to a trusted source for their information about food production. We need to make sure that everyone knows we are the trusted source.
So the next time something like this happens in your region, treat it like an opportunity to tell your story. Agriculture was a big winner last Wednesday in South Dakota and it’s because PETA helped us do it.
Click here for some video of the event.