This story first appeared in the Silver City Daily Press, and can be viewed here.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. For the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, even after 100 years of advocating for local ranchers, the fight remains as important as when the organization was founded.
Stewart Rooks, president of the Grant County chapter of the bureau — which will have a centennial celebration today at Tractor Supply — said the list of things the group is currently concerned about is endless.
“Anything that has anything to do with agriculture, food safety … anything,” Rooks said. “We’re concerned about any of that.”
Among them: water issues, efforts to protect the Mexican gray wolf and private property rights.
So, they’re still keeping busy after 100 years.
The bureau was first formed in Las Cruces with an overarching goal of providing agricultural-based people with a unified voice during the Industrial Revolution. As more and more people were leaving rural communities to move into cities, the farmer — and his importance to society — was starting to be forgotten.
They face similar issues in 2017. Rooks said many farmers are forced to commute long distances to get to good-paying jobs, impeding growth of rural communities in the process.
Hurting the farming population more than perhaps anything, though, is the lack of consistent dialogue with other people in communities.
“I don’t think that they’ve ever had the opportunity to talk to somebody heavily involved in agriculture, to really understand,” Rooks said. “They don’t really realize the importance because no one has ever sat down and talked to them.”
Klayton Bearup is from Grant Country, and said his family has been involved with the organization for as long as he can remember. If anything, he said, there is a bigger need than ever for unity in the farming community.
“Today we’re dealing with people trying to tell us how to do our job, and how to do it in a way that makes it more expensive on us. But yet they still want food available at all times that’s healthy, wholesome and nutritious,” he said. “So it’s still the same fight. It’s very much needed in the way that it was needed 100 years ago.”
Bearup has long been involved in advocating for agricultural issues. In high school he was involved in Future Farmers of America. He went on to be involved in the collegiate arm of the Farm and Livestock Bureau, where he began to get an understanding of what the group does.
For him, the effects that come from a lack of understanding what food goes through before it hits the grocery shelf are magnified.
“You don’t realize how big the industry really is until you start breaking it down,” Bearup said. “It’s part of the Farm Bureau’s mission, to create a way that we can speak about it and share our story and share what we know with people so they have a better grasp of where their food comes from and what all it entails.”
From Bearup’s perspective, many people take the efforts of farmers for granted, not knowing about the multitudes of individuals who play a role in food production.
“Our agricultural system is unmatched by any country ever in the history of the world, and that’s something that people kind of shrug off because they don’t understand,” he said. “[For them] it’s just there.”
A big piece of the puzzle is the different backgrounds people grow up in. Growing up near skyscrapers instead of potato or chile fields, it can be hard to understand what goes on behind the scenes.
Rooks said that, coming from an ag-based lifestyle, he understood the importance of the farmer in the community from a young age.
And the Grant County Farm and Livestock Bureau is working to ensure future generations understand as well. Rooks said his chapter works with schools, collaborating with their 4-H and home economics programs to encourage education and, potentially, involvement.
“I believe with more outreach and just getting information out there, that people are always very receptive,” he said. “It’s just a point of getting information out to those people.”
Bearup, who teaches agriculture at Silver High School, said he is optimistic about farming’s future locally, adding that groups like the Farm and Livestock Bureau have succeeded in prolonging the community’s relevance.
But even if the organization didn’t exist, Bearup said he and others like him realize the work they do is too important to stop.
“Everything that’s involved in us being able to live in the way that we live — food, fiber, shelter — comes from agriculture in some way,” he said. “It’s vital for us to survive, and that never-ending pressure and passion to stay surviving and keep it prosperous drives everybody to make sure that no matter what happens, we’re still doing the job.”
The Grant County Farm and Livestock Bureau meets on the fourth Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Grant County Extension Office. Members will celebrate their centennial with a BBQ from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Tractor Supply, 2707 Highway 180.