“I Was Born in a Small Town”

September 25, 2015

I’ve always taken special pride in those lyrics by John Mellencamp, because I was born in a small town, and grew up on a small dairy farm not far from that small town.

There has always been a mantra about that sort of beginning that implies that we have an advantage when it comes to hard work, family and values. I’m not sure that the population of your birthplace guarantees any of those virtues, but after spending some time in Denver at the NAMA Fall Conference, I do have a greater appreciation for how the experience can translate into understanding the connection between agriculture and the rest of the world.


I visited with a farm broadcaster from Kansas who was also a farmer. His family bought a struggling farm radio station so that the rural voice in that region could continue.

I sat with a young woman who works with a farmer-owned cooperative, reaching out to members and potential members and struggling, as many co-ops are these days, with how to communicate the cooperative’s unique set of values and advantages to young producers.

Even some large businesses like Cabela’s rely on their rural roots to help them stay effective. Their director of U.S. business development told us that the company’s base in Sydney, Nebraska, population 6,282, is not only the place where they began, but also the place that still provides them with a connection to what is essential to their customers and their ongoing success.

So Volga, South Dakota, probably doesn’t deserve any extra credit for who I am any more than Los Angeles does for someone born there. But, I’d like to think that part of who I am, what I do and how I care about the people and promise of agriculture and agribusiness can be traced back to those rural and small town experiences. That’s big enough for me.

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