Feeding the Class of 2017
By Jennifer M. Latzke
Every fall I look forward to the release of the Beloit College Mindset List.
Partly to see the cultural points that created the next generation of 18-year-olds who are entering college this fall.
Mostly, though, to remind myself how old I’m getting.
You’ve probably seen the Mindset List come across your email from some older relative. My generation shares them over Facebook and Twitter. But no matter our age, we all look at this list of cultural references that these freshmen will never understand and we comment about how this next generation has it so much better than we did.
This year, though, as I looked at the list for the Class of 2017, there are the typical references to pop culture and politics. But No. 3 jumped out at me: “GM means food that is Genetically Modified.”
Take a minute to process that. These young people were born in 1995, and for their whole lifetime we’ve had genetically modified food, fiber and fuel.
They’ve also had a lifetime of all manner of activists telling them that genetically modified and engineered crops are harmful without the science to back up their claims.
This is the same class, according to the list, whose rites of passage included getting a cell phone and Skype account, rather than getting a driver’s license or their own car. These precocious 18-year-olds grew up in a world where anti-smoking ordinances are the norm. Their childhood movie memories were made by Pixar computer-generated talking fish or talking bugs or other anthropomorphic animals.
The members of the Class of 2017 are not just citizens of the Digital Age, they are natives. They know more about sharing online than you can dream. And they are creating new ways to share every day.
These are the new adult consumers—and voters, don’t forget—we have been dealt. So, how does agriculture communicate our mission and goals to them? How do farmers relate to this class who is now three, maybe even four generations removed from a farm or ranch?
We can start by accepting that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets are here to stay. You can avoid them if you’d like. No one is forcing you to create a profile. But you aren’t doing yourself any favors. How do you know what the conversation is if you don’t go where the conversation is being conducted?
Let me give you an example. Look around at your morning cowboy coffee klatch at the co-op. See any 18-year-olds sipping coffee and commiserating over the farm bill? Doubtful. See any urban teenagers dropping by to ask you why you do or do not plant genetically modified seeds on your farm? Nope. Do you have any regulars who want to start a conversation about Beef Quality Assurance and proper cattle handling techniques? I highly doubt it.
But go online and you can bet that the anti-ag movement is having a conversation with those same teenagers who grew up thinking “fish are friends, not food.” And they’ve been doing so for their whole lifetimes.
Yes, American farmers and ranchers are feeding the Class of 2017—along with billions of other people around the world. But does the Class of 2017 know how it’s done and why it’s important?
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.