When I’m not pontificating here, I write and edit books and magazines for kids. In 2006, as part of a preschool non-fiction series, I wrote My First Book About Farms, in which Professor Grover takes Elmo on a learning tour of farms, showing red barns, white fences, rolling hills, big haystacks, hayrides, hardworking farmers in overalls, and the obligatory photo of a cow being milked by hand. Grover even plays the role of “Old MacGrover” for awhile.
I did a few things right. I kept meat out of the picture, for the most part. I included information for parents about farmers’ markets. I explained how a lot of people work very hard to get food “from the farm to your plate.” I said that some cows were milked by hand but many are milked by machine. I included lots of big farm equipment like tractors and bailers, which kids—especially the boys—love.
But in general, looking through it now, knowing what I know about the reality of American farms, I feel I owe my readers an apology.
I’m sorry that the book, while informative and engaging, only represents the reality of about 2% of American farms. I’m sorry these farms are disappearing because our government subsidizes the factory version of farming rather than the real version. I’m sorry that I presented the story of where our food comes from in a ridiculously sanitized, almost mythical, way. I’m sorry that I contributed one more bucket of white paint to the ginormous vats used for whitewashing—covering up the truth about our food sources.
Beyond the book falling short, I’m sorry that there just isn’t an age-appropriate way to explain corn subsidies, bloated government bureaucracies, our society’s dependence on oil, the role of the corporation in our society and economy, or the sorry state of the school lunch program.
The “sorrys” get bigger: I’m sorry there isn’t much out there that teaches kids how to critically view advertising, read labels, or resist marketing targeted at the soft innocent center of their developing minds. I’m sorry there isn’t an easy way to break the news to kids that hens just like their favorite Little Red Hen spend their lives in cages so small they can’t stand up or turn around. I’m sorry that the food pyramid, taught so earnestly in their classrooms, is simply the result of agribusiness lobbying efforts.
Consider this blog the adult version of the book.