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The American Farmer Needs a Cowboy Image

Posted: April 15 2009

Greenhorns. cowboys. young farmer icons -- we welcome submissions of 'graphic identity' totems.
The American Farmer Needs A Cowboy Image
by Gary Truit
No image of America is more widespread and more enduring than that of the cowboy. Over a century after the heyday of the western cattleman, the image of the tough, independent, hardworking man on a horse against an expansive western sky is known worldwide. This highly romanticized legacy was not the creation of a slick marketing campaign, although advertisers often use this image to sell products. Hollywood helped spread the image of the cowboy, but they did not invent it. It was a small handful of men - none of whom were cowboys or even lived in the west - that first fixed the image of the cowboy in the American consciousness. During the late 1800's Teddy Roosevelt and Charlie Russell began writing about and painting images of life in the west. Published by eastern newspapers and magazines, the image of the Wild West was born.

The stories were of individuals - one man against the elements. It was the rugged individualism, resourcefulness, and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds that caught the imagination of the American public. The American farmer shares many of the same qualities as the cowboy but has not benefited from an untarnishable image. Somehow the image of a 50 year old man, a ball cap, and a pick up truck against the background of an Indiana corn field does not stir the imagination like the Marlboro Man against a Montana sky. Today, with questions being asked about environmental stewardship, animal care, and food safety, the farmer needs a powerful image people can trust.
While there have been several well-financed and well-intentioned media campaigns designed to accomplish this. They have, for the most part, been ineffective. The best and most effective method is for individual producers to just tell their own stories in their own words. Thanks to the general access to the internet and the growing popularity of the social media, farmers have a new and affordable tool to tell their story. Web sites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are all tools that can be used to craft the image of the farmer, one story at a time.
As with most trends in agriculture, there are some early adopters who are out in front blazing the trail and finding what works and what does not. A web site that is designed to tell the story of ordinary livestock producers is www.indianafamjlyfarms.org . On this site you will find profiles, pictures, and audio interviews with beef, pork, and dairy producers. You can see and hear these producers, in their own words, tell their stories. They talk about the history of their operation, their values, their family, and their thoughts on issues such as animal care, food safety, and more. This site also lets visitors ask questions of individual producers via e-mail. It contains links to a number of educational web sites and farm-friendly blogs. This site will continue to grow as more and more producer's profiles are added.
Facebook, once the exclusive domain of high school and college students, is quickly becoming mainstream. Millions of adults and businesses are now joining this social network. Several progressive farmers have Facebook pages and are connecting with non-farm people all over the country. Liberty Farms in Wabash County has a great Facebook page and is setting the standard for how producers can use this new medium. What is especially attractive about Facebook is that it is free, requires very little technical knowledge, and can easily connect you with all kinds of people near and far. Both Hoosier Ag Today and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture have Facebook pages.
The American farmer deserves the kind of image that the Cowboy has but may never achieve it. We can, however, begin to counter the forces at work against modern agriculture. For every PETA video that hits the web, there should be hundreds of farms on-line with their stories of animal care and environmental responsibility. So mount up and ride off into the sunset to tell your story of life in rural America.