SPOKANE — Farmers and foresters need to listen to the concerns of the public for agriculture to survive, a speaker told FFA members during a presentation at the Spokane Ag Expo.
“I grew up a proud logger believing I was a steward of the forests,” said Bruce Vincent, a third-generation Montana logger and motivational speaker. “But when I went to college in Portland, it didn’t take very long for me to figure out the kids I was going to school with didn’t look at me as a steward; they looked at me as an ax-murdering Neanderthal.”
The public’s perception, and public policy, are not defined by farmers’ reality, Vincent said. They are defined by the public’s perception of reality.
Vincent said the environmental movement has turned fear into an industry that depends on crisis and conflict for funding. He learned the hard way as a logger during the timber wars, he said.
The public receives “20-second sound bites” comparing scenes of tree stumps to forests, he said.
Industry members get frustrated that those are not the only choices, Vincent said, but the public doesn’t know that because they are generations removed from the farm.
Ag and forestry industry members laugh at what the public doesn’t know, he said, but they shouldn’t.
Foresters and farmers need to learn the difference between fighting and leading, he said.
Vincent recommends farmers, ranchers and foresters say: “I am listening, I understand. I respect or I share your concerns and I am part of the answer to those concerns.”
Membership in FFA is a good start, Vincent told the high school students. He urged members to learn to be good listeners, take communications courses, get involved in rural leadership programs and make advocacy part of their career path.
He recalled listening as his father and mother returned from a meeting with his principal and teacher as a third-grader.
Vincent had high scores on tests, and the school officials had told his parents that if he ended up being a logger, it would be his father’s fault, Vincent recalled.
“He got the message ... that I was going to be too smart to be a dumb ol’ logger like him,” Vincent said. “Thankfully I got to work with him for almost 40 years, and I can tell you when we were standing out on the forest looking at the hillside of trees trying to figure out how to apply modern forest management, I had two degrees hanging on the wall, Dad didn’t have one. If there was a stupid person standing there, it was not my father.”
His father had more forestry experience than he could have gotten with a doctorate from Yale University, Vincent said.
“You have a heritage worthy of passing on, particularly to intelligent children,” he said. “I have hope that in 100 years in Spokane there will be an FFA gathering with your great-great grandkids.”