University of Georgia student and Southeast Bulloch High School graduate Laurabeth Bland was a recent guest on a Saturday morning episode of “Fox and Friends” after an open letter she wrote on her Facebook page to then Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg was shared multiple times and caught the attention of the Fox News cable network.
A 20-year-old agricultural communications major, Bland wrote the letter in response to an earlier comment from Bloomberg about farmers that resurfaced in recent weeks.
In a forum back in 2016, Bloomberg said, in part, “I could teach anybody to be a farmer. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.”
Bland said that her life in Statesboro inspired her to respond to Bloomberg’s words. A Democratic presidential candidate at the time, Bloomberg announced Wednesday he was dropping out of the race.
“Growing up in a rural area surrounded by agriculture, I often take for granted the fact that many other people don’t share these experiences,” Bland said. “I think that’s why I’m always so shocked when I see people speaking so negatively about agriculture.
“Because I’m so passionate about this industry, I feel like I have an obligation to speak out on its behalf. Mr. Bloomberg’s comments reminded me of just how uninformed most consumers are about the process it takes for their food to get to their table. It made me nervous to realize that someone so educated could have such little knowledge about the industry that holds our country together.”
Bland said she was also reminded that communication about agriculture shouldn’t only be in defense in response to negative situations.
“I want to get the conversation about agriculture started among people who normally don’t think about ag, and I certainly don’t want that discussion to stop here,” she said.
Bland, who was active in the FFA organization throughout high school, had the opportunity to have agricultural conversations in a number of arenas, as she served in local, area and state office positions.
Bland’s Facebook open letter began: “Dear Mr. Bloomberg, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you were never taught agricultural education and I’m sorry that you don’t understand what it is that our farmers actually do every day. I’m sorry you’ve never learned the scientific process it takes for a seed to become a crop or seen the beauty of livestock growing and developing. I’m sorry you’ve never shaken hands with the man who put the food on your plate or the woman who grew the nice cotton you’re wearing right now. I’m sorry no one told you that, in addition to feeding the world, those who work in production agriculture are also mechanics, meteorologists, veterinarians, nutritionists and soil analyzers to name a few things.”
She went on to say that perhaps it’s not his fault, because he isn’t the first nor last to look down on that industry. Bland said that perhaps those in the agricultural profession aren’t the best at communicating what they do.
“We spend a lot more time around plants and animals than we do people, so you’ll have to forgive us for not always being the best communicators,” Bland wrote.
“So, I don’t blame you for not knowing, but I do blame you for your disrespect. You’re trying to lead a country yet you don’t recognize the industry that fuels it.”
Just before she signed the letter as a “20-year-old dreaming of being ‘just a farmer’ one day,” she extended a challenge to Bloomberg.
“So before you downplay the importance of our industry again, I challenge you to go to work with a farmer one day,” she wrote. “Get a little mud on your boots, sweat on your brow, and then tell me again how simple it is to feed the world.”
Though she didn’t hear from the Bloomberg campaign, Bland said she was shocked when she heard from the Fox network.
“If we’re being honest, I really thought that my post would be shared by my mom and maybe my grandma, if I was lucky,” Bland said.
She said she was working at her desk after class when she got a Facebook message from someone she didn’t know, but she identified herself as a recent UGA graduate, a member of Bland’s sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, and a producer for “Fox and Friends.” She then extended the invitation to Bland to drive to Atlanta over the weekend for a live interview.
Interview on ‘Fox and Friends’
Bland said the Feb. 22 interview on “Fox and Friends” was a great experience, despite a few tears and a lot of anxious nerves.
“I’d been in contact with someone from the show nearly every day leading up to the filming, so I wasn’t too nervous going into it,” she said. “Once I saw the backdrop, the cameras and the mics they were going to put on me, though, I think my stomach dropped to my toes.”
Bland said the filming took place in a small room with a big backdrop, an even bigger camera, lots of lights, one stool for her to sit on and a couple of camera monitors.
“Right before we started filming, the producer kicked my mom out of the room and helped me get my microphone and earpiece situated,” Bland recounted. “Everything after that happened very quickly, and thinking back, it was honestly a blur. I think I was most surprised that I could not see myself or the woman I was talking to on any monitors. It was just like I was on the phone but looking at a camera.”
The only information Bland was given before she spoke was that the interviewer from New York would start with the question about why Bland had chosen to write the letter, and then the interviewer would steer the direction of the questions based on her responses.
“It was scary not knowing what else they would be asking, but it was nice knowing that they were willing to let me speak more freely without being confined to a script,” Bland said.
With that in mind, she wasn’t prepared for the lead into her questioning.
“As they introduced the story, they played the first line of Paul Harvey’s ‘So God Made a Farmer’ speech, and when I heard those famous words, I got chills all across my body and tears swelled up in my eyes.”
Unbeknownst to the interviewer, Harvey’s poem has been a longtime favorite of Bland’s, and she recently received the poem on a plaque as a birthday gift from her grandmother that now hangs in her bedroom at school.
“I knew I had to get it together quickly, and I’m glad I did, because the button on the camera started flashing and I knew that meant we were live.”
Bland said she has been overwhelmed with the responses, which began by the time she and her mom left the studio, both in tears because of the significance of the opportunity.
“Within minutes, people from across the country had found me on Twitter and were posting positive messages on my timeline, thanking me for helping share their story.”
Bland said that people began pouring their hearts out to her, sharing stories about what it meant to them to grow up surrounded by agriculture.
“It was then that I realized just how blessed I was to get those three minutes of time on air to talk about something I’m so passionate about, because there are so many people who are more passionate than I am, but nobody has given them a chance to speak out and let their voices be heard.”
Bland said she hopes to continue sharing agriculture stories by advocating for the industry with more similar conversations.
“I’m not entirely sure in what capacity I would like to do so, but I think I would enjoy focusing on writing and photojournalism to tell the stories of people in our industry. And, I want to be a farmer and raise cattle.”