Michael Marsh

Aug 18, 2020
Ag needs cohesive message, minus of any distractions

My foot slid slightly on whatever was on the sidewalk. Whatever it was kind of crackled beneath my shoe. I stopped and looked but didn’t notice anything. I knew it wasn’t chewing gum and was thankful for that.

There! I saw what it was. Lying in the joints of the concrete was not just one, but several bits of glass. Tiny fragments that whoever had swept up had missed with their broom. Hmm. Curious.

It was then I noticed where the bits of glass had come from.

I had walked past this very storefront nearly every day on my way to the office. Now, some of the storefront was boarded up. The rest was not. I shaded my eyes from the sunlight and peered into the store from where a window had previously mirrored pedestrians as they walked past. The glass was gone but, because there was no plywood held up by two by fours across the opening, I could see inside.

Through the opening, I saw the mannequins that used to hawk fashion in the window and seasonally change their attire, scattered about the interior of the store. Some mannequins had their arms, legs and heads missing. Some did not. The stylish summertime fashions which had previously adorned the lifeless figurines had been stripped away.

Also strewn about the store, from what I could see, were the remnants of the shopkeepers’ inventory. The faint beeping of the triggered alarm remained beeping still. Sad.

I looked away from the open window and across the street. The stores across the way had all their windows boarded up so perhaps they had escaped the fate of the business I now stood before.

This was downtown Washington, D.C., in early June 2020. And, from this tragic city scene, there was a message for those of us in agriculture.

Pain and anger over unjust deaths had boiled over into protests in the streets, sharing a message that overdue change was needed. The right of Americans to peaceably assemble has long been enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

But, as I looked around the deserted street on the way to my office, the pieces of glass in the sidewalk, the strewn about mannequins and the boarded-up windows did not appear to be the result of something “peaceable.”

Therein lies the point for agriculture.

A peaceful protest and its message demanding change had been diminished. And, the message itself reflecting the pain of the assemblage, had been usurped. Too many fellow Americans not in the streets would only later recall the depictions of violence, lawlessness and looting they saw on TV, the remains of which I stood within on the D.C. street.

This image obviously foreclosed understanding the intention desired by the makers of a “peaceful protest.” The protesters’ desired message was garbled and distorted by its incompatibility with the actions of a few.

In agriculture, we can ill afford a similar fate with our message. But too often this can occur when we are singing from the same hymnal, but each turned to a different page.

The consumers of our messages must be co-opted, and their attention not diverted toward something it is not. And we, as agriculture, must stay on message. Because, as we know, there are too many who would try and dangle a flashy object, simply to distract our audience.

America’s farmers and ranchers are stewards of family legacies as well as stewards of the land. They are passionate about what they do and are compassionate toward those they do it with, who help get the chores done. They care not only about their children, but about everyone else’s too. And they also understand the importance of passing that legacy untarnished by something unseemly. That is why farm and ranch families are who they are and do what they do.

The lesson for agriculture is poignant and is something which we must all come together to learn. Agriculture is served best when we stay on our message.

— Michael Marsh, president & CEO, National Council of Agricultural Employers




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