What kind of man would live where there is no daring? I don’t believe in taking foolish chances, but nothing can be accomplished without taking any chance at all.
~ Charles Lindbergh

Do Collar America

America’s economic and cultural form is a consequence of the character of her people.  America through history has had a great number of individuals who were willing to push toward the frontiers of their time.  Those frontiers have been about geography, adventure, mechanics, science, the arts, politics, business, and many other things.  No matter the frontier, the idea is the same.  The American character reflects a restlessness that pushes the boundaries of the possible, transforming small or big parts of the world into something better.  This is Do Collar America.

Joel Kotkin recently wrote an article that described America, economically and politically, in two parts, blue collar America and NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) America.

America has two basic economies, and the division increasingly defines its politics. One, concentrated on the coasts and in college towns, focuses on the business of images, digits and transactions. The other, located largely in the southeast, Texas and the Heartland, makes its living in more traditional industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to fossil fuel development.

As an agriculturalist, I appreciate Kotkin’s distinction.  However, I believe in a distinction beyond the political, beyond blue or white collars, beyond 1 percenters or 99 percenters.  The distinction I have in mind is one at the center of America’s historical culture of doing; individuals pushing forward to achieve and transform.

You may recognize card-carrying members of Do-Collar America by the following characteristics.

  • Action-orientated – “Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” ~ Goethe.  Today’s media gives a stage to many whose orientation is “I talk, therefore I am.”  It’s not good enough to to simply throw around ideas if nothing ever gets done about them.  Just because you say or write something repeatedly doesn’t make it either right or true.  Do Collar Americans take action to get things done.
  • Results-focused– Do Collar Americans are committed to achieving outcomes, and deliberately and consistently producing results. Not just any results, however, but meaningful and measurable results.  The alternative in the country is “all hat, no cattle.”  In town, “all show, no go.”
  • Celebrating success– Creating the future and transforming the present inevitably involves setbacks, controversies, and failures.  Do Collar Americans inherently understand the risks of trying new things and celebrates the successes that follow the trials of doing things differently.  Headlines from the September 10, 1908 Buffalo Express read “Man Conquers the Air,” and “Success of the Wright Aeroplane Demonstrates Aerial Navigation is but a Matter of Development, Possible in Near Future.”  Transpose events of that time to 2012 and the New York Times headline would read “Wright Brothers Dangerous Invention Points to Risk of Death from Great Heights.”  The Huffington Post would read “Environmental Groups Call for Legislation Banning Bird Killing Machine.”  Paul Krugman’s blog entry for the day would be “Private Equity Investor Conspiracy Behind Wright Brothers Scheme Threatening High Speed Rail.”

The result of our efforts in agriculture is ultimately food in people’s mouths, something very tangible and very necessary.  To get food produced and delivered our industry deals in the realities of the physical world such as weather, movement of bulky and/or perishable products from one place to another, and life and death of plants and animals.

In an every-day context, decisions of those involved in agriculture are often made from a menu of choices that are not ideal.  That’s the nature of a sector as complex as agriculture and the food industry.  Beyond the everyday challenges, however, are the longer term challenges the industry faces.  In particular, I explain to students in my classes that over the course of their careers agriculture needs to double its production capacity.

The challenge of meeting a growing world’s food needs is subject not to Moore’s law (trend in computing hardware whereby processing capacity doubles approximately every two years), but to the laws of nature.  When global crop-ground expansion cannot likely grow by more than 30 percent from today, that leaves the majority of production capacity increases in agriculture to innovation.  It is the innovation and transformation that springs from the minds of the Do Collar class, in America and abroad, that will meet the food needs of the 9 billion people on the planet.  All else is mere chatter.