MANHATTAN, Kan. — As a girl, I dreamed of a future family and farm life in somewhat vague terms. However, one aspect was clear: I would not want to marry a dairy farmer because they never go on vacation.
I may have painted dairy farming unfairly. Willingness to travel now seems to me to be less about the kind of farm and more about the individual.
Farmers tend to fall into three categories of travel preferences. Homebodies don’t see any reason to leave the county except maybe for a day trip to the state fair or an educational meeting. Interest-based travelers are willing to make a moderate amount of short-term trips to livestock shows, college football games or whatever piques their interest, as long as they can get back quickly if anything goes wrong at home. Adventurers have a desire to see the world and work to make vacations possible.
This travel preference would seem to be a learned behavior, but there may be a genetic component. In recent years, researchers have identified a genetic variant called the Wanderlust gene, which effects dopamine levels making a person more risk-tolerant and adventurous.
Since farmers deal with risk every day, it would be logical to assume they should all be world travelers. However, it might be the opposite in many cases. Farmers spend their time trying to manage and mitigate risk, they use new genetics to attempt to offset weather risk or market their grain in a way that spreads out the risk of market movement. Their world by nature is full of risk; most do not want to invite more.
But I think it would be a mistake to forget the other variable in the equation — reward. Travel has comes with risk but it also offers an important reward: diversity.
Diversity has become somewhat politicized over the pasts few years, but at its core it is a simple and vital concept for our ability to grow and learn.
In a graduate school, I learned about homophily and heterophily, or the degree to which the person you are communicating with is the same or different from you respectively. These similarities and differences may be factors of physical location, experience, values, language, technical expertise or many other items. We enjoy people we have homophily with because it is easy to be on the same page with them. People who are heterophilious to us are harder to talk to but we learn more from them and often that learning can help us to grow more quickly.
For example, if you only work with the same group of people every day you will develop a common language and can work efficiently together. However, when your group is asked to do something different, you may all come up with the same ideas. Having an outsider’s input can give you more ideas or different information to contribute to the conversation. This is 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 that innovation to keep our communities alive and thriving. It is too easy to dismiss diversity, to decide that we don’t want to take unnecessary risks.
One of the recent ways that I have chosen to seek out new ideas and perspectives is by participating in the Casten Fellows program, which is a Kansas Farm Bureau leadership program honoring the memory of former staff member Dr. Jill Casten-Downing.
Our Casten Fellows cohort recently completed the capstone of this program, a 14-day international experience in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. This was not a vacation; it was an intense educational experience that took us to farms, agribusinesses, cultural sites and historic places with the goal of understanding culture and agriculture in a part of the world.
In the coming weeks, I am excited to share more through this column about our time in the Baltics. I hope that the stories of the people, places and culture we experienced will provide new perspectives to spark conversation and innovation in your community. And hopefully it will create a desire for you to seek out your own adventures.
— Jackie Mundt, Pratt County farmer and rancher
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