For most of my youth, my summers were spent on the 1,800-acre Kinslow Ranch owned and operated by my aunt and uncle near Dover, Okla. My uncle has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, and my aunt also is a college graduate.
They are educated, “sophisticated” farmers who taught me that farming and ranching is a never-ending battle that requires quick wits, a high degree of intelligence and an unyielding work ethic to survive. Those youthful summers gave me a great appreciation for agriculture, and a deep respect for the Kansas farmers who put food on our table.
Last week I implied that farmers are not as “sophisticated” as the rest of our urban community. That was careless, and I understand the concerns raised by Kent Winter, president of the Sedgwick County Farm Bureau Agricultural Association (“Does mayor think farmers aren’t sophisticated?” April 30 Opinion). Everything he said about the importance and complexity of our agricultural economy was right on target.
I have always had the greatest respect for our agricultural community. I have repeatedly reached out to smaller communities around the state, both as mayor and as a past president of the League of Kansas Municipalities. I firmly believe that Kansas urban and rural areas share common interests that demand mutual respect and attention.
In 2011, I was honored to answer the governor’s invitation to attend his summit on the future of the Ogallala Aquifer. Driving across Kansas to the host city of Colby in the northwest corner of the state, I couldn’t help but marvel at the economic impact of rural Kansas. Acres of cropland and cattle country provided a sobering context for the discussion of the delicate balance of our water resources and our thriving agricultural economy.
My choice of words at the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport groundbreaking last week could have been better, but they don’t overshadow my sincere appreciation of the agricultural community.
As mayor of this great city, I can get pretty excited about the significance of our airport improvements. First impressions are very important, and the airport complex is the first thing that visitors see when they fly into Wichita.
It doesn’t make any difference whether they are coming here to buy airplanes or farm commodities. We want them to feel confident that we are a progressive community that thrives on a diverse economy largely driven by agriculture, aviation, energy and medical services.
Before becoming mayor, I worked in the aviation industry. I know its challenges, and I know the opportunities it brings to our city, state and nation. Every time I get on an airplane, I think about the workforce of men and women who make it possible.
The reminders of the importance of agriculture are much more frequent. They show up at least three times a day, and they are shared by every citizen of our community. The bountiful supply of quality and nutritious food that sustains us didn’t just happen. It is the product of the sweat and tears of farmers and ranchers like my aunt and uncle.
I’m confident that Winter and others in the agricultural industry will understand my appreciation of their efforts, and I’m hopeful they will remain our solid partners.
And if it’s any consolation, it’s a whole lot easier asking Winter for forgiveness than explaining all this to my aunt and uncle.