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Promote and protect our kids in ag

Highlighting kids in agriculture is an important part of writing about family farms, Jonathan Knutson says. But it's also important to protect kids from dangerous elements.

Two adults and two children crouch in a soybean field, scouting it for problems.
Highlighting kids in agriculture is an important part of writing about family farms, Jonathan Knutson says. But it's also important to protect kids from dangerous elements.
Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC
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Two anecdotes to make an important point:

The first: An area farmer once asked if I'd be interested in a feature story on his daughter, a high school student who helped on the farm. He pointed out that she was physically small, both short and slender, but operated big farm equipment without problem — demonstrating that intelligence and determination, not strength and physical size, are the foundation of modern farming. I agreed to the story. Besides highlighting the brains over brawn aspect, the story would feature a father's pride in his daughter and the importance of "family" in "family farms." That combination, I knew, would appeal to many Agweek readers and AgweekTV viewers.

The next day, however, he phoned back to say sheepishly that his wife had adamantly vetoed the story. She worried that it might focus an online predator's interest in their daughter. I said the only thing possible: "Well, I was looking forward to doing the story, but of course I respect your wife's position."

The second anecdote: I once received an email image of my very young great-nephew looking at a portable chicken cage holding several of the animals. His expression indicated both interest and perplexment. I thought the image, combined with some basic information on raising chickens at home, might make a nice, quick post on Agweek social media. His mother, my niece, agreed to the idea, provided his name and hometown weren't included. I complied, of course, and the item was posted.

Balancing two goals

The internet and social media have changed the world for both better and worse. The advantages include increasing people's ability to work at home and making it easier to stay in touch with family and friends.

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But the downsides are real and major. The internet provides ready access to sites stuffed with dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories. It provides a ready forum for taking nasty shots at people on the other side of the political fence. And it provides a potential opportunity for predators to cast their despicable attention on our kids in ag — the children and high school students living on farms, ranches, small towns and cities who in some way are involved in modern agriculture.

An important part of Agweek's mission is celebrating those kids through both print and TV stories. We want to recognize our ag kids because they're an essential part of ag's future. Such stories also underscore the many career options available to young people who want to make their living in ag.

So, yes, Agweek proudly promotes our ag kids.

But we also recognize the need to protect those kids from sick, twisted individuals who might harm them. I don't know how serious or widespread the threat actually is: some smart people seem to think that while the danger is real, it's not as pronounced as commonly believed. Whatever the threat level, we take it seriously.

Nor do I have a good handle on what parents and other relatives can do to protect our ag kids. But I suspect many Agweek readers already have grappled with this problem and can pass along some good suggestions. If so, please drop me a line.

Promote our farm kids? Yes, absolutely.

Protect our farm kids? Yes, absolutely

Best of all, of course, is doing both. That's my ongoing goal. And though I'm increasingly reluctant to speak for others as I get older, I'm absolutely confident that everyone else at Agweek agrees.

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Jonathan Knutson is a former Agweek reporter. He grew up on a farm and spent his career covering agriculture. He can be reached at packerfanknutson@gmail.com.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURERURAL LIFEAGRICULTURE EDUCATION
Opinion by Jonathan Knutson
Plain Living
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