There’s a school of thought that’s been going around agriculture circles for some time, and that the industry needs to be repackaged as “sexy” in order to attract practitioners and investors.
The most common way I’ve observed this being done is through marketing it as fun and glamorous, many times using the same techniques as a fashion editorial. And while these techniques are at home in the pages of glossy fashion magazines, they might not be the best way to popularize a waning industry.
For one thing, focusing on just the “glamorous” side of agriculture pushes aside the very real troubles the industry has such as rampant poverty and a lack of resources, especially among smallholder farmers; a need for proper land and water distribution; the lack of farm-to-market roads, insulated transportation, and cold storage facilities; lack of natural disaster and climate crisis intervention; and so on, instead propagating a somewhat true, oftentimes incomplete narrative of farming as all about the gorgeous farm sunrises, forever bountiful harvests, and muscled youths with a glaring lack of farmers’ tans frolicking in the fields.
Promoting a product (clothes, food, produce) is very different from promoting an industry. It makes sense to promote one’s harvests and value-added products with glamour shots because the goal is to entice customers to buy said products. But it would be disingenuous to paint an industry, especially one as fragile and as complex as agriculture, in such broad, one-sided strokes.
While I agree that agriculture should be more discussed, I also think that it should be done in a way that encourages people to consider it as a viable career without glossing over its many unique challenges and let’s face it, heartbreaks.
To quote great philosophers LMFAO, who, in their dance hit “Sexy and I Know It,” at the end of the chorus of repeated “Girl, look at that body,” the singer states, with much emphasis, “I work out.”
In the same way that the electronic duo achieves a conventionally sexy body by doing the hard work—going to the gym (and probably eating right, though it isn’t mentioned in the song). In the agriculture industry, this would mean, among other things, fair wages, a transparent food system, proper infrastructure and policies, and assuring longtime and would-be practitioners and investors of institutional support.
Will it be easy? No. Will it be fast? No. To continue using the fitness metaphor, to achieve and maintain a gym-honed body, one has to put in the proper work long-term. No shortcuts.
I have to admit that for a long time, I was skeptical about the blanket call to make agriculture sexy until Julius Barcelona, a businessman who works with the Department of Agriculture as one of the representatives from the private sector, pointed out that it may be possible if one did the hard work first. So yes, agriculture can be sexy, but before we should tout it as so, like LMFAO, it must first “work out.”
Otherwise, it’s false advertising.