The Good Herdsman - Celebrating Ten Unapologetically Rural Years

Throughout my years I’ve recognized that a good herdsman understands that when working with and sorting livestock, it’s best to move gently, quietly and step towards the cattle, working with the animals rather against. It’s a science and a real art that requires patience and knowledge of the animal.
Recently while sorting cattle it dawned on me that the way a good herdsman interacts with livestock isn’t all that different from how a good leader interacts with his colleagues and peers.
For the past 10 years, the Center for Rural Affairs has had the privilege of having a good herdsman amongst us: John Crabtree, Media Director.  
I've had the experience of his guidance quite directly as the Center for Rural Affairs Media Associate. He has helped me develop into the person and rural advocate I am today. There have been many people pass through the Center for Rural Affairs doors, staff and supporters alike, that have learned from John’s extensive knowledge and wisdom. 

John was recently awarded an Outstanding Service Award for serving 10 years with the Center for Rural Affairs. John has actually been with the Center for Rural Affairs for longer than 10 years, first coming here in 1996, working on livestock market reforms and corporate farming issues for three and a half years. He left in 1999 to pursue other ventures, but decided that he couldn’t stay away and came back in August of 2005.

John is a storyteller and a great one at that. He has the ability to talk interestingly, colorfully, and persuasively… which is just what is needed for his line of work. And it’s not uncommon for co-workers to ask John to tell a story, because no one else can narrate a story quite like him. 

He tells the stories of the Center for Rural Affairs and its work to support rural people and places. He has spent nearly 20 years advocating for public policies that create a better future for family farmers, ranchers and all of small town America.  His words have graced the pages of countless newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and he’s been the voice and face of rural America and the Center many times on radio and TV as he’s conducted thousands of interviews over the years. 

Like the way a good herdsman tends to livestock, John interacts with people in a manner that encourages them to move. Whether it’s prompting grassroots supporters to pen a letter to the editor or a newspaper editorial board to persuade the media outlet to take an editorial position on our issue or run an op-ed, John has as way of lighting a fire within and getting things done. 

He is opinionated, stern, and unapologetically rural (a phrase that, I believe, he originally coined), but he is equally gregarious, and affable.  And it’s these characteristics that make him so good at what he does. 

John says what he means, and means what he says. He stands up for what is right and for what he believes in, and in his words, “not just when it is easy, not just when it is popular, but more importantly, when it is difficult, and when many forces align against us.”

When I think of John’s character I’m reminded of this quote, which happens to be one of John’s favorite Martin Luther King quotes, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 

Thank you John for not only your 10 (plus) years of service and unwavering dedication to rural America, but also for being a great boss, mentor, colleague, and friend. And thank you for showing me and many others to stand up for what we believe in even when it’s not the easiest or the popular thing to do. 

Image: John Crabtree and Center for Rural Affairs supporter Dave Young, from Newton, IA. This winter Young made the 4 hour trek from Newton to our offices in Lyons, Nebraska after reading an op-ed John had published in the Des Moines Register, (The Little Shell Game on the Prairie,  January 5, 2016). His visit was not scheduled, but he was most welcome.