Is there Art in Agriculture?

By Doug Fabbioli

Is there Art in Agriculture?

I have spent almost 4 decades working in agriculture, turning crops into a preserved, value added product, and teaching people how to be successful at this vocation. We don’t always acknowledge that there is an artistry to agriculture, mainly because the science is so critical to success. Also, financial success of farmers can be so challenging, we don’t feel comfortable or stable enough to put the creative hats on and add a little flair.

Clearly making wine has an artistic element. The process of blending, defining the style of a wine and the way a wine can draw an emotional response all add into the recognition of creativity that leads to success. The art in the labels, the tasting room design, the experience a customer has when they enter your farm, all of these examples are affected by the artistic vision that someone had and continues to have as they do their job. So the artistry has a direct relationship to many decisions that are made on the farm on a daily basis. Certainly there are also financial, process, sanitary and scientific decisions that are made as well. But recognizing that an artistic element to your farm business can make a major difference is very important to your success.

As conventional farmers get closer to consumers through the farmers markets, “on the farm” sales and the “know your farmer” movement, the stories of why they are different begin to show. Many farmers deal on a commodity level, like selling their milk to the local co-op to be processed with other milk. But some farmers are keeping a portion of that milk to start their own ice cream operation. The creative character of this leg of the business will help define their business and add value through retail pricing, building a customer base and brand recognition.

Each farmer is a steward to their land and a parent to their crop. The stories of how they do what they do is the expression of the art they do every day. Sometimes the art is the repetition and uniformity of the crop or the row. Other times, the art is the random and bizarre ways that Mother Nature appears on your land. Sometimes the art is in the efficiency of using products off the farm for other purposes in a way that increases income and exposure. It can also involve changing practices to protect water, soil and climate. Encouraging farmers and others to think outside of the box can help them save the farms and the lands they steward.

At The New Ag School, our non-profit agriculture workforce development effort, we are recognizing this artistic element as a key part to our base curriculum. The traditional educators have been pushing STEM education for a decade or so. The newer concept is to add art to the curriculum making the focus STEAM. Making a farm successful and paying the bills is important, but the art factor gives us a reason of why we do it. Embracing the artistic side of things can make the functionality side work stronger, smarter and with more style.

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