Two and a half weeks ago, I had a unique opportunity to sit in front of a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives to share a bit of my farm story. I told them about our cows and about how our farm operates, a little about our history and family, and shared specifically how important biotechnology is on our farm and others like mine around the country. The big topic of the day was (and is) genetic engineering or modification (GM).
How did I get there?
Years ago, I had the opportunity to apply for American Farm Bureau’s Partnership in Agriculture Leadership program. I was accepted along with nine other Young Farmers from across the country. It was a tremendous program and I learned a lot. One idea in particular that has stayed with me was from a former president of National Corn Growers who said it is one thing to have the vision to recognize an opportunity when it comes along. You must also have the courage to take advantage of it.
Fast forward ten years.
What started as an invitation to attend the annual Washington, D.C. meeting for the National Council for Farmer Cooperatives and participate in their young cooperator program, led to sitting on a panel to discuss my experience about blogging and social media and sharing our farm story online, which led to a phone call out of the blue asking if I’d be willing to fill in as a witness at a hearing about the societal benefits of biotechnology for the House Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture. Um, YES!
After about a week and a half of very late nights and early mornings trying to get all my work done, keep up with the farm and the boys and prepare for my testimony, I found myself sitting with three other panelists in front of six members of Congress.
I’ve taken some time to reflect on that day and the subsequent reactions that I experienced following. Each time I’ve started to write this post, I have found myself getting bogged down in too many details. It’s truly been a whirlwind. The actual hearing lasted nearly two hours. The other panelists were with universities and spoke about their tremendous knowledge and research about GM crops both in the U.S. and other countries, (see link to hearing summary page below). I was the only farmer on the panel and tried to share how biotech fits in our daily operations. When our time was up, there was a very positive vibe in the room, despite realizing a rather somber conclusion: we in science and agriculture have not done enough to convey the benefits (and safety) of GM crops. Thus, we have much work to do.
Perhaps what resonated with me the most from the hearing, were comments made by Ranking Member Kurt Shrader, an organic farmer from Oregon. They were similar to a theme that I’ve been carrying with me for awhile now – at the end of the day, we’re all farmers regardless of the label that is put on the product we’ve made, and there’s room for all of us. Here’s one of his quotes from the day:
“As science and technology advances, it’s important that we do not pit different agriculture systems against one another – we should support all forms of agriculture.”
I’ve had the privilege of receiving generous support and thanks, for which I am grateful, from people I know personally and also from people across the country. I’ve made many new contacts and now have a go-to group of people who are a lot smarter than me that I can bounce the scientific articles off of to help better understand and interpret them.
Of course, I’ve also received some negative tweets, comments, messages and have even been included in an extremely negatively slanted article (sponsored by a company that wants to sell you more burritos) that received a lot of attention, unfortunately. Perhaps the toughest, though, has been facing people close to me, hearing their ideas about GM and our food system which is why they may be fearful or misinformed, and trying to gently share facts with them without causing a rift.
A few days after returning home to the farm, we were putting the cows out to pasture. It was a beautiful morning- cool breeze, warming sun – and as the cows filed past me I think I caught a few nods as a sort of “welcome home.” Really, it was just another day heading up to graze the beautiful top pasture under the watch of Wheeler Mountain. It reminded me why I took advantage of the opportunity to testify, why I put myself out there, no doubt to be judged and questioned.
I’m protecting our way of life. I’m protecting the way we farm and care for our cows. I’m also protecting consumer choice and farmer choice and opportunity. I’m protecting the legacy we are continuing by farming this land, and the legacy we plan to leave the next generation. I know that there are many more people out there like me or that feel the same way that I do, and our work is not done. This was simply my turn to step up and I was happy to do so, and would do it all again.
My full written testimony: Written testimony of Joanna Lidback
A link to the full release including testimony from the other panel members: Subcommittee highlights benefits of biotechnology