Being the Bridge | Op-Ed by Gina Bowman


For as long as I can remember, there has always been division between the agricultural/rural sector and the urban/suburban sector.  I remember watching the 1960’s riots on television, and asking questions as a 6 year-old would, and being told that the cities are full of crime.   I grew up on a farm in northwest Missouri.  Both of my parents came from the agricultural/rural sector and grew up during the depression.   No such activity was ever experienced in the agricultural/rural areas, from their perspective.

I recall dressing up to go to the city whenever we wanted to shop for school clothes.  So, while the city may have been riddled with crime, etc. (from my parents perspective), it also was deemed to be a place to wear your Sunday best.  We were going UPTOWN!  

Fast forward to college, and I remember clearly in my Persuasion speech class, picking “the facts about the agricultural industry” as my topic for the speech before a hostile audience, with the backdrop as the “tractorcade” of the late 1970s..  Most of my student colleagues were from the urban/suburban sector and did not have any understanding of where their food came from, how hard farming was, etc.   They had no idea.   It was giving this speech that I finally understood that I had an opportunity to “educate, communicate, and gain better understanding” between both sides of the great divide.

Many leaders have worked at bridging the gap of understanding and communication between the country and city.  Former United States Senators Bob Dole (KS) and George McGovern (SD) believed strongly in bringing together both sectors’ needs.  One example in how this was done was bringing together both farm and food policies in 1973.  This was a way for the city sector to understand where its food supply came from and it was a way for the country to understand that it needed the city to survive.   And more importantly, it was a way to insure the farm policies would be passed into law.   

We must remember that census after census shows that the majority of the population is moving to Florida, California and Texas.  And while those are also agricultural production states, most of the population is in the cities.   Our congress is mainly an urban/suburban.   The rural/agricultural based districts continue to lose representation as the populations moves to the cities.   Both Missouri and Kansas lost a congressional district in the last 10 years.  Studies have shown that within forty years, in both states, eighty percent will live in the urban/suburban regions.   Agriculture needs the city and the city needs agriculture.

Bringing the two policies together was absolutely visionary by Dole and McGovern.  Just recently, the governors of Missouri and Kansas announced in their “state of the state” speeches, proposals to enhance their states’ rural sectors, including the access to broadband and infrastructure. Historically, urban-based policymakers tend to support efforts to support agricultural interests.

Sadly, in very recent years, there has been a growing trend to divide the two sectors.   Not just separating the food/farm security policies, but also separating the sectors through political campaigns.   Red sector versus blue sector maps and the focus of dividing the segments of the country is a political strategy.

This is not good for the country as a whole, and certainly not good for the agricultural/rural sector. Agricultural and rural interests have more to lose in this division in the long run.

However, with this concern, provides a wonderful opportunity for entities like the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City.   The Council was organized with this mission in mind:  “To advocate growth and awareness of the food, fiber, agri-science and related industries in the Kansas City region.”

Each and every member has the opportunity to “bridge” the urban/suburban and agricultural/rural sectors.   Those like me, a farm kid replanted in the city after college, are the best advocates.

Let’s openly communicate with your neighbors, church members, PTAs, schools, etc. about the contributions of our industry, about our policy concerns, and so forth.   In most cases, we will discover that our concerns are comparable:  healthcare access, technology, education, infrastructure, to name a few.

Let’s work at being the bridge.