Jazzamine Washington was one of the new breed of Ag Extension agents.
Michigan State University recognized that growth in the ag industry was occurring on opposite ends of the spectrum. One end involved super, mega, industrial farming. Those guys had little need for the traditional, university based ag agent. They had their own, Ph.D. experts.
The other growing segment involved urban agriculture. And, contrary to what many thought, most urban farmers are women interested urban food security.
Attempting to better serve that segment involved recruiting and training agents who were decidedly non-traditional. Jazzamine Washington was one of those new agents.
The first steps Jazzamine took “in the field” were under the tutelage of Larry Blivet and Richard Leepers. Dick and Larry were a couple of idiosyncratic, old-style agents who where commonly regarded as “good” agents. The three county area they served were a mirror of Michigan’s demographics writ small. The northeast corner was inner city while the southwest corner was as isolated and rural as one could find in Southern Michigan. As old-school ag agents they considered dairy farmers to be their primary clients.
Richard was entertaining Jazzamine with monologue. “And you will get to work with the most frustrating, stubborn, contrary critters that you will swear are the stupidest animals on the planet. You will also have an occasional success that will all of the bruises and scar tissue worthwhile.”
Jazzamine felt she was being talked down to and did not care for the feeling very much.
“Actually, I spent a great deal of time with Holsteins while I was taking classes at MSU. I was not the least bit scared of them and don’t anticipate having any problems.” Jazzamine said.
Richard and Larry stared at Jazzamine.
“What?” Jazzamine said. “What did I say?”
Suzzie Griggs the office secretary started laughing the dry, rusty sound of a tool that saw little use. “He wasn’t talking about cows, honey.”
Jazzamine looked puzzled.
“He was talking about the farmers...and their wives.” Suzzie cackled.
“How can you be talking about them like that?” Jazzamine said, accusing the ag agents.
Richard and Larry looked at each other, wondering how they were going to explain “the facts of life” to the FNG.
Jazzamine solved the problem when she looked up from the Dairy records she had been looking at while “enjoying” Richards monologue.
“These records don’t make any sense.” Jazzamine said.
“Whaddya mean?” Larry asked.
“These records say the herd in every dairy farm in our area produces over 30,000 pounds of milk per cow and the average for our area is 22,000 pounds a cow. Mathematically I don’t think it is possible for every farm to be above average.” Jazzamine said.
Larry dismissed that with a wave. “Happens in every district.”
“Well, I wish you would explain how that could happen.” Jazzamine said.
“Well, first you gotta understand a little bit about farmers and farmin’ “ Larry said.
“Farmin’s is one of the loneliest occupations on earth. You are alone all day driving a tractor or a combine or hayin’. You are alone jerking cow titties. You are alone running a Bobcat scrapin’ poop.” Larry said.
“You spend time with your wife but she wants to do all the talkin’. You go to church and the preacher does all the talkin’. They don’t want to hear what’s aggravating you and they think you are just a common dirt-farmer.” Larry went on. “Town-folks look down on you because you smell like cowshit and sometimes you have stains on your jeans.”
“The only folks that have respect for you are other dairy farmers. If you are a dairy farmer, well, you kind of set your hat to impress them.” Larry said. “And the thing that impresses dairy farmers is RHA, Rolling Herd Average. Have a RHA over 30,000 pounds and you can hold your head high an any company.”
Jazzamine set her jaw. “You still haven’t explained how every producer can have an RHA that is above the area average.”
“I’m getting there.” Larry said. “You know, one of the things you are going to have to do is park your big-city attitude. These farmers work seventeen hours a day and might only see five people in a day. They might only stop working and talk to one of them. That might be you. If they want to talk for twenty minutes you gotta remember that it might be the only twenty minutes they interact with another human being all day long.”
“So you have to be patient and listen. Even if the farmer takes his own sweet time getting around to the point. You gotta convince that farmer that those twenty minutes are the HIGH POINT of your day, just like it is the high point for him.” Larry said.
“Anyways, like I was sayin’ “ Larry continued “ain’t no mystery at all.”
“Every dairy farmer has two herds. One herd pays the bills. The other herd milks over 30,000 pounds a year.”
“How does that work?” Jazzamine puzzled.
“Two separate three-ring binders. A cow starts producing more than a hundred pounds a day they remove that cow's records from the pays-the-bills herd binder and put it in the ‘braggin’ binder. The cow drops below a hundred pounds a day it moves from the ‘braggin’ binder to the ‘production’ binder.” Larry confided.
“Every farmer in our Grange can stand in front of every other dairyman and
God Himself, look him in the eye and announce ‘My herd has a RHA over 30,000.’ and he ain’t lying. They all do it and it is just understood.” Larry said.
“Well, I never!” Jazzamine ejaculated. “I have never heard of such a thing!”
“Sure you have.” Richard chimed in. “You just never heard it put together like that.”
“Can you give me an example, because I cannot think of when that might be...” Jazzamine said.
“Sure. Think about congressmen. Same kind of job. Lonely. Gotta interact with lobbyist and constituents who ain’t any smarter than Holsteins.” Richard said.
“They got two kinds of laws. They got the laws they write for public consumption and then they got the laws they expect to get enforced on a day-to-day basis.” Richard said.
“Excuse the expression, but bullshit.” Jazzamine said. She felt like she was on pretty firm ground because she religiously watched CNN and Slate for an hour every night. “You can’t give me any examples of that.”
“Sure we can.” Larry said, tag-teaming the FNG.
“How about immigration law?” Larry said. “They write a bunch of tough sounding laws about not allowing Central Americans into the country and then protest when the Executive Branch enforces them. They want to sound tough but then don’t want the blow-back.”
“That is proof that they have two, three-ring binders just like the dairy farmers. Laws for public consumption and laws that pay-the-bills.”
That is when Jazzamine went catatonic. Comparing dairy farmers to congressmen seemed like a stretch but there was nothing in Larry or Richard’s arguments she could point to as demonstrably false.