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Want to believe in something? Try agriculture

By now, you’ve likely seen Nike’s ad campaign that features one of the most controversial, talked-about slogans I can remember in a long time: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

As the face of the ad, Nike chose former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose kneeling demonstration during the national anthem sparked outrage last NFL season. The campaign includes a commercial that debuted during this year’s first NFL game and ignited a firestorm, leading people to boycott and burn Nike gear in protest. Some schools, including College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo., severed ties with Nike. In its announcement, the college said it would “choose its country over the company.”

Since the ads appeared, they’ve been mocked and mimicked with a plethora of parodies and social media memes ranging from religious to ridiculous, patriotic to political. Various versions of the slogan have been paired with images of Jesus, New York City firefighters on Sept. 11, war hero Pat Tillman and even disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding.

Here’s my belief: I don’t agree with those who choose to take a knee during the national anthem. I was raised to stand with respect, put my right hand over my heart and gaze at the flag when the Star-Spangled Banner is sung or played. Where I come from, hats are removed and conversations are paused—although singing along is encouraged. Here in the Heartland, I suspect that many of you were brought up the same way.

But I also believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the press. What makes America great is that people have the right to protest and companies such as Nike have the right to run advertisements that may be offensive to some folks.

So while I don’t agree that Colin Kaepernick is the right role model for America, I do feel that “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” is a good message. It’s empowering. It’s inspiring. And it’s a message that can have different meanings to different people.

For my whole life and career, I’ve been involved with people who believe in agriculture. And sometimes, yes, farming means sacrifice. Farmers sacrifice time with family during their busiest times of year. They sacrifice the freedom to go on vacation whenever they please. They sacrifice their bodies with back-breaking manual labor. They sacrifice sleep to care for sick animals. They sacrifice income when weather and markets and trade policies don’t cooperate.

Why do they do it? Because they believe in something.

Despite inevitable hardships and heartbreaks, farmers believe rural life is a good way to raise a family. They believe feeding, clothing and fueling the world is an honorable profession. They believe in tradition. They believe in handshakes and hard work. They believe in being good stewards of the land. They believe many of the best things in life are, indeed, free: sunrises, wide-open spaces and seeing new growth and new life each season. They believe in patriotism, Christian values and community pride.

And they believe in helping neighbors in need. This summer’s drought is a great example. When I visited with Gallatin Agri Services Manager John Davis for the story on page 6, he told me about how local row-crop growers shared their drought-stricken corn fields with cattle producers to cut silage to feed their animals. That’s what farmers do. They help each other, even when facing tough times themselves.

Not only have I worked in agriculture my whole adult life, but more specifically, I’ve worked for agricultural cooperatives the entire time. Co-ops also are something to believe in. They are created by people who have a need and believe in working together for the common good. MFA, for example, was organized by a group of farmers who banded together for economic strength in purchasing inputs. Cooperatives serve their members, not a corporate board. And cooperatives are filled with people—both employees and members—who believe in a servant spirit.

For me, farmers are real role models, not overpaid athletes and spoiled celebrities. Let them take a knee in protest if they want. As I tell my kids all the time, you can’t control what other people do. You are only responsible for your actions. So I will always stand respectfully for the national anthem. I hope you will, too.

I’ll also keep on believing in the power of cooperation, in doing an honest day’s work, in leaving this world better than we found it and instilling the values of God and country in the next generation. Now, those are things you can believe in. Just do it.

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