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A matter of perspective

"The Midwest is the shock absorber for the rest of the country, acting just like the shocks on your car. All of the crazy ideas that come from the two coasts take a while to permeate into the heartland. It allows for some of the crazier ones to be diluted down.”

Economist and actor Ben Stein said that back in 2006 after a four-hour drive from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls, S.D. He was celebrating the beauty of the drive and the different state of mind he got from wide-opened spaces compared to the cramped nature of a city.

I dug up Stein’s comment for this column in the opening weeks of 2017. During that time, mostly on the coasts, things were burned, tossed and broken as a form of political speech. In the light of such incendiary events, it is easy to lean on that shock-absorber quote. Here in the middle, we have had a relatively smooth ride.

I have a theory slightly different from Stein’s as to why. It is a matter of perspective. In the middle of the country, aside from having wide-open spaces, we are surrounded by things we can’t control. We are surrounded by things that feed and sustain us. And, occasionally, we are surrounded by things, like F4 tornadoes, that can kill us. Cities tend to tame nature more successfully, leaving urban populations to collect their reality in different ways. It’s perspective.

Let’s call it a Midwestern mindset. Its roots are in agriculture. Rural Midwesterners, especially readers of Today’s Farmer, intimately know the challenges of making things grow. We see crops flourish or die depending on the whims of Mother Nature. We see the wonders of biology as livestock grows thriftily. We see the cold indifference of biology when livestock suffers or perishes from disease. If Mother Nature is feeling fickle, we might see a blizzard or a life-stealing drought—things that remind us we are not in control and that we are mortal. Here, in this shock-absorbing middle, we see a reality that isn’t affected by what we do in the voting booth or who we lobby in the capitol. Sure, politics shape how we farm, but the do-or-die of it comes from something larger than ourselves.

Midwest perspective is influenced by nature’s daily infomercial playing on a loop through our windshields or from the front porch chair. Here, the world is come-what-may, and lashing out, burning and throwing things won’t change it.

New perspective

That’s the last commentary on the passing scene that you’ll see from me on this page. I’ve moved over an office to become the executive editor of Today’s Farmer and MFA director of communications.

I’m happy to announce that Allison Jenkins has joined the MFA communications staff. Beginning with this issue, she is the editor of Today’s Farmer. Allison will bring a new perspective to these pages, and, I can assure you, a depth of valuable experience.

Allison left her position at Tennessee Farmers Cooperative (TFC) in December 2016 and relocated to central Missouri, where her husband, Jason, serves as monarch and pollinator coordinator for the Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative. They have three children, Aiden, 8, Carly, 7, and Ashlyn, 5.

A native of Pelham, Tenn., Allison was raised on her family’s row-crop and livestock farm and earned bachelor of science and master’s degrees in Mass Communications from Middle Tennessee State University. She spent more than 20 years at TFC, where she was Communications Department manager, editor of the Tennessee Cooperator magazine and handled a wide variety of responsibilities—from writing and photography to meeting planning and public relations.

Allison has been a leader in cooperative communications. She served as board member and president for the Cooperative Communicators Association, a national organization focused on professional improvement. She has been honored with numerous communications awards from CCA and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Allison will be an asset for Today’s Farmer and MFA.

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