Through the Eyes of the Media

I did a scary thing last week.  I gave a reporter and camera man permission to come to our farm.

Yeah, I turned my camera on them!

I was contacted by Jeanne from Swiss TV a couple weeks ago.  She was persistent in her desire to talk to me.  I was flattered and scared all at once.  I won’t lie.  I ignored her messages for awhile, because the thought of talking with any sort of media intimidates the heck out of me.  I am not a good conversationalist. I much, much prefer writing.

But, I figured I’d better at least give her a call back and find out what she wanted.

So I did.

And she told me they were doing a story comparing Swiss dairy and beef farms to American dairy and beef farms.  Hmmm, ok.  Well, I’m not the only one on this farm, so I needed to get the permission from the other stakeholders (i.e. the rest of the family.)  So I called a powwow.  And I got their blessing  tolerance.  

In the meantime Jeanne was breathing down my neck, and had left a message saying they wanted to come within the week.  So I called her back and said come on over.  She then proceeded to question me specifically about what our cattle eat.  And then she wanted to know about the hormones we feed them. “Hold up,” I told her.  “Our cattle don’t eat hormones.  They’re implanted in their ear.”

“Oh, well, can we see that?”  She asked.

“Well, sure, but if you’re coming this week, you won’t be able to.  None of our cattle are scheduled to receive an implant for quite some time.”  I get the feeling she was expecting us to be shooting our cattle up on a daily basis.  I told her that I’d be glad to explain the process and show them the implant and tool we use to put it in the calf’s ear.

“So, can we see the implant in the calf?”  She asked.

“Um, no.  I can show you where it goes in the calf, but it’s tiny.  You can’t really see it.”  I was getting a bit suspicious by now. But, the optimist in me said I’ve got nothing to hide or be ashamed of, and I could probably teach them something.

And then the conversation turned to antibiotics.  I told her I’d be glad to explain what we administered and how and why we do so.  I’d show them what I could.  Now I was really beginning to wonder if there was a hidden agenda.  And I again decided that it didn’t really matter if there was or not, I am who I am and do what I do because I know it’s the right thing to do.  They’re going to get their story somewhere and I’d rather it come from a direct, positive source, than second hand.

So, Jeanne told me a cameraman and reporter would be coming in a few days to witness our cattle chores and discuss our farm with us.

Tilman (the reporter) and Marcus (the cameraman) arrived on Wednesday evening to scope out the farm and get a few details.  They were very nice, and although they were fluent in english, it was obviously their second language.  They wanted to know if they should wear boots the next morning.  I told them it might not be a bad idea, as it had been raining here the past several days and things were pretty muddy.  I pointed them in the direction of the local farm store and they were off to buy some rubbers (boots.)

Marcus was filming everything like crazy!

They showed up bright and early Thursday morning.  We talked and showed them around a bit, and then got down to business.  I had Justin there with me to help out.  I just had a feeling they would need a guide to explain what was going on and how to keep from getting run over.  I tell ya, the whole experience was unnerving.  They had us do things over and over slowly to get good shots and different angles.  We had Marcus climb up the feed wagon so he could film the mixing of the feed.  I do believe I got in and out of the tractor about 10 times so he could film me getting in and starting it up.  I’ve never fed cattle so slowly in my life.  :S

Then came the questions from Tilman.  For the most part, I’d say he was just looking for information, and may have had a bit of an agenda, but kept it subtle.  There were some blunt questions, and he repeated some of them over and over.  But I just answered them.  I wonder if he thought he was going to get a different answer if he kept asking?  Oh well.  I guess that’s the media’s job.

They spent all morning on the farm.  They explained that SwissTV could be compared to PBS in America.  Both of them would speak german to each other once in awhile.  They told us that Switzerland does not allow hormone implants and sub-therapeutic antibiotics on their beef farms.  So I imagine that is why they were so curious about that.  The footage they got from our farm is going to be used in a half-hour segment.  They didn’t have a timeline, except that “sometimes it takes awhile to put it all together.”  They also told us that they were just shooting the footage and doing the interviews for another reporter in Switzerland who is putting the whole project together.

One concept that kept coming out in the interview that irked me a bit was that he kept trying to get me to say that the purpose of hormones and antibiotics was to grow the cattle bigger and faster.  But that is not what it’s about.  It’s about making the most from the least.  Conservation of resources means putting the least amount of inputs into a calf with the maximum amount of output.  Another thing that struck me, was that they didn’t realize the value of our livestock’s manure.  They thought it was a waste product.  But, I’ve covered that topic before.  Around here, manure is a precious commodity!  And we told them so.  Half the reason we have cattle and hogs is to fertilize our crops!

It will be interesting to see what comes of all of this.  It was a big learning experience for us.  I keep rolling things in my head that I wish I had shown and told them.  I feel like I was a bit of a deer in headlights that day.  I was prepared for them, but still can’t help but feel that way.  I’m guessing that is something that one never gets over.

I know that no matter what sort of spin (if any) the story takes, I was genuine in my answers and proud to show our farm to the public.  I hope that part shows through my stumbly bumbly answers.  Although I have a bit of trepidation about this whole thing, I have nothing but good to say about Marcus and Tilman.  They were very friendly and genuinely interested in our farm.  We were glad to have them.

Justin explaining the cattle's ration and how it changes over time.

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11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek on June 30, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Wow. You’re brave. have you seen the news today? We are literally a few miles from the farm that was filmed.

    I love your quote about minimum input for maximum output!

  2. we just came back from Germany and almost all of the cattle and hogs are kept in the barn. the doors and windows were open for air movement. the fields are used for hay and other crops, the animals are never out of the barn. the manure is spread on the fields but can only be spread when it is going to rain to keep the smell down. beef there is very expensive but pork is a good price in the store. my son sid there are very few big herds in Germany.

  3. Liz you do a very good job writing, I’m sure the TV interview and filming were just as good. I would be very interested in what eventually comes of it, the final product.

  4. Posted by Jeanne Dutoit on June 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Dear Liz
    Thank you for your help and passion.
    Jeanne

  5. Great post, Liz.
    You can’t control what they say, all you can do is invite them in and give accurate info. In my opinion that will do more good in the long run than those laws that seek to criminalize filming at farms – any activist worth his salt will simply disregard the law, and the reasonable people amongst us will wonder whether you have something to hide.
    I have seen aerial photos of manure in streams; obviously you’re not involved in that, at least not to a large degree, if you’re using it as fertilizer. What CAFOs are letting crap run downstream like that? Seriously – who’s doing it? It’s happening. As you’ve said, manure is a valuable resource, not waste.
    Well, whatever comes of it, I respect your open door. There may be animal abuse, but people need to understand that it’s a rarity rather than the norm. There may be antibiotics in use, and people may wish to avoid them in any case, but there is a rationale for using them. Some of us are more concerned about hte conditions that necessitate their use (extensive grain feeding, i.e.) It is troubling to me that someone such as myself – someone who’s concerned about loss of topsoil and the lack of fertility in what remains, the nutrition value in our meat, the sustainability practices in agriculture – might get lumped in with the animal rights bunch. I think we eat too much meat, but I also think we need to eat it, at least on occasion.
    I’m sure you’re nervous, but just remember that EVERYONE has an agenda and just continue to do your best to represent yourself well.

    Dawn

    • Thank you Dawn. You know my views on videotaping on farms, we do need to welcome the cameras, good and bad. As far as manure spills. I wonder what photos you are referencing. It is illegal to discharge manure into streams, even on accident. I honestly don’t know who would intentionally do that. I do know that sometimes accidents happen and manure spills happen on occasion. Not much different that a city lagoon, except that there are no exemptions for farmers who discharge (accident or no). I’d be willing to say that it’s more common around here to hear that a city is discharging their lagoon into a body of water, with the blessing of a permit and the DNR and no regulations violated. Than to hear about an accidental farm manure spill, where the farmer is fined.

      I appreciate your point of view on abuse and antibiotics. As well as other issues. And I hear your message about lumping a genuinely concerned and solutions-oriented consumer in with irrational animal rights activists. Too often, when it comes to a divisive issue, we focus on extremes when we (in general) should be focusing on compromise. Thank you for you kind, thought inspiring words.

  6. Posted by Jan Rothmeyer on June 30, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    I having grown up on a farm, learned a lot and will plan to check out your blogs more often. I was also misinformed about hormones but still have to ask if that is why kids today are becoming giants. I really want to know if there is research to support that or not.
    Aunt Jan

  7. Posted by Mike U. on July 1, 2011 at 4:03 am

    I’m sure you guys did a great job! One thing you could have asked them is how come so much of the ag production in their country is moving to the former eastern bloc?

  8. Iafarmwife, you did well by sticking to your story and being consistent in the message. I have been “interviewed” as well, and I believe it was the same folks you saw, if not their associates.

    Do not be surprised that what you think will be the message in their program does not even survive the editing room. Their message may well be a slanted perspective of animal hormones and antibiotics and they will use the footage, minus the audio to get that message across. That’s pretty much what happened to our interview. They wanted me to portray a heartless, business minded “mega” producer that did not care about the consumer during the run-up in commodity prices when Russia announced that its wheat crop was a major disaster in 2010. I refused to say what they wanted me to say. I stuck to my message. Eventually, when the interview was published, they used the footage without the audio.

    European television producers have a different way of conducting interviews. Most of it is rehearsed as you mentioned. American broadcasters pretty much want everything “ad-lib” which actually makes the interview to be percieved as more genuine and authentic.

    Anyway, thanks for your willingness to tell your story. Great job!

  9. Posted by Matt on July 14, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    So how did they find you of all the farmers in the Midwest?

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