Currently, I’m working my way through James Herriot’s classic autobiography, “All Creatures Great and Small.” To say it’s enjoyable would be an understatement. This book offers an engaging, entertaining glimpse into the life of a country veterinarian in post World War II England. As an AgComm student, I’ve especially appreciated the fine writing and reverential esteem for agrarian life and communities. Herriot demonstrates a heartfelt respect for his clients and an intimate appreciation for the relationships that form society.
In the opening chapter of “All Creatures Great and Small”, Herriot describes a veterinarian call he made early in his practice. A late night in the freezing winter, Herriot finds himself summoned to deliver a calf for a local farmer.
Herriot writes: “They didn’t say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back… My mind went back to that picture in the obstetrics book. A cow standing in the middle of a gleaming floor while a sleek veterinary surgeon in a spotless parturition overall inserted his arm to a polite distance. He was relaxed and smiling, the farmer and his helpers were smiling, even the cow was smiling. There was no blood or dirt anywhere.”
Quite frankly, this is how I feel about my research in agricultural communication. As Lisa alluded to in her post “Live from the Labyrinth”, work in the social sciences is tangled and perplexing.
In our classes, we learn about research methods and theories. We read academic literature, organize our files, and feverishly brainstorm ideas. But when we start a conversation with our audience and begin asking questions, our work becomes labryinthine and very personal. We attempt to make sense of what we’re observing and discovering. We endeavor to synthesize our world of academia with the world of our audience. We aspire to offer tangible solutions for the conundrums of society. It’s as if we’re sitting with Dr. Herriot in that frigid barn, slightly messy and disheveled, trying to deliver the calf.
Nevertheless, we keep working. Skillfully imparting information about the food we eat and the processes involved is vital to the health of our society. The task of bridging the communication gap between agrarian and non-agrarian audiences is a great one. Asking analytical questions about agriculture and seeking the answers must be done. Our work will never be “finished.” Yet, as James Herriot went out in the middle of winter’s night to help the local farmer, we (Ag Communicators) commit to unswervingly serve our communities by informing them about agricultural issues that are connected to the essence of their livelihood.
—Abigail Maurer, Ag Comm Junior and Research Assistant