As a child, I dreamed of a future family and farm life in rather vague terms. However, one aspect was clear: I wouldn’t want to marry a dairy farmer because they never go on vacation.
I may have unfairly portrayed dairy farming. The desire to travel now seems to me less linked to the type of exploitation than to the individual.
Farmers tend to fall into three categories of travel preferences.
Homebodies see no reason to leave the county, except perhaps for a day trip to the state fair or an educational meeting.
Travelers motivated by their interests are willing to take a moderate amount of short-term travel to attend breeding shows, college football matches, or whatever piques their interest, provided they can return quickly in the event of a problem at home.
Adventurers have a desire to see the world and to work to make vacations possible.
This travel preference appears to be learned behavior, but there may be a genetic component.
In recent years, researchers have identified a genetic variant called the Wanderlust gene, which affects dopamine levels, making a person more tolerant of risk and more adventurous.
Since farmers face risks every day, it would be logical to assume that they should all be world travelers.
However, it could be the opposite in many cases. Farmers spend their time trying to manage and mitigate risk, they use new genetics to try to offset weather risks, or they market their grain in a way that spreads the risk of a market movement. Their world by nature is full of risk; most don’t want to invite more.
But I think it would be a mistake to forget the other variable in the equation – the reward. Travel comes with risks, but it also offers an important reward: diversity.
Diversity has become somewhat politicized in recent years, but at its core it is a simple concept that is vital to our ability to grow and learn.
In graduate school, I learned about homophilia and heterophilia, or the degree to which the person you communicate with is the same or different from you respectively.
These similarities and differences can be factors of physical location, experience, values, language, technical expertise, or many other things.
We like people we’re homophile with because it’s easy to be on the same page with them.
It is harder to talk to heterophiles with us, but we learn more from them and often this learning can help us grow faster.
For example, if you only work with the same group of people every day, you will develop a common language and be able to work effectively together.
However, when your group is asked to do something different, you can all come up with the same ideas.
Having input from a stranger can give you more ideas or different information to contribute to the conversation. That’s why we go to conferences and hire consultants.
Diversity is important because different experiences and perspectives can lead to innovation.
In rural America, we need this innovation to keep our communities alive and thriving. It’s too easy to dismiss diversity, to decide that we don’t want to take unnecessary risks.
One of the recent ways I have chosen to seek new ideas and perspectives is to participate in the Casten Fellows Program, a Kansas Farm Bureau leadership program honoring the memory of former staff member Dr. Jill Casten. Downing.
Our Casten Fellows cohort recently completed the cornerstone of this program, a 14-day international experience in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland.
It was not a vacation; it was an intense educational experience that took us to farms, agribusinesses, cultural sites and historical places with the aim of understanding the culture and agriculture in one part of the world.
In the coming weeks, I am delighted to share more through this column about our stay in the Baltic countries. I hope the stories of the people, places and culture we have experienced will provide new perspectives to spark conversation and innovation in your community.
And I hope it will create a desire for you to seek out your own adventures.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by the Kansas Farm Bureau.