by Troy Bishopp

Before the “shelter-in-place” pandemic concept came to fruition, I was on my way to Indiana to speak to farmers on grass farming and grazing management. The notoriety of being “The Grass Whisperer” and also coming from well over 100 miles made me a draw for the annual Southern Indiana Grazing Conference. Humbly, my words were not the most powerful story.

When you’ve been traveling the flat interstates of New York, Ohio and Indiana experiencing the land of corn and beans, you need to find a place to sleep after a long 12-hour journey. My tired self and rental car rolled up to the Hampton Inn Southwest in Fort Wayne, IN. As I entered the lobby, a waft of chocolate chip cookie aroma pierced my hungry nostrils. There, in all its glory, was a domed tray of the tasty morsels accompanied by an iced decanter of milk. I had found the “right” hotel.

After getting settled in, the friendly desk clerk pointed me to a local Italian restaurant. Experiential learning happened right away when I sat next to a retired couple who happened to have kids in New York; the gent used to work at an original International Harvester factory in Fort Wayne. I am a fan of red paint, wine and stories about the good old days. They seemed very interested and appreciative that I was a farmer and willing to laugh and share the realities of our time. I left the place with a little spring in my step because as we parted they said, “Thank you for what you do” – so few genuine words but so moving to hear out loud. I was inspired.

The next morning at checkout, the nice lady at the front desk inquired what I was doing there. I told them I was doing some farm visits on my way to a speaking engagement. The young receptionist lamented that she always wanted to raise some animals and a garden on some land. Not thinking, I said, “You should totally do that,” and I handed her the address of Seven Sons Farm in nearby Roanoke to get some mentoring. She asked me what I did. “I’m a grass farmer,” I said, and proceeded to give my two-minute elevator talk about grass farming, soil health and their attributes to communities like hers. As I packed up, she uttered with the most important words a farmer seldom hears — “You’re amazing.”

A monumental experience like that must be shared and immediately went into my speaking repertoire for the 300 farmers I was going to engage with. I was so moved by the sentiment; it’s all I could think about as I took the stage. Sometimes faith will lead you down a path you didn’t know existed. I started in front of a room full of amazing people and started to clap. My lone clap was followed by another, then another, then by the tens until the whole room was clapping for no particular reason other than to follow the herd. I share this because the most important person in the room was the first person who took a chance to clap with the crazy grass farmer and lead the herd.

When I delivered my “Amazing” story, I saw the burden of unappreciated farmers in their welled-up, emotional eyes. “You are amazing,” I cried. Can you feel what those words mean to you? Can you imagine what you can accomplish when your customers and our society regard you in such a way every day? With our neighbors, customers and communities turning to their local farmers for help, I hope our patrons become the deafening applause that leads to a resilient local food system with amazing farmers.