A couple of weeks ago I was reading a commentary in the Kansas City Star that mentioned some readers recently objected to Kansas City being referred to as “Cowtown” in some article headlines. One reader said, “Isn’t it time that The Star took the lead in getting rid of that name? Does the paper want other cities to think we’re all a bunch of hicks?”

Another person (from the KC Repertory Theatre) who “cringed” over a Cowtown headline said, “Isn’t it time we moved beyond the cultural pejorative [of Cowtown] and shouldn’t The Star make that happen?”

Got your hackles up yet? I guess I must be too much of a backwoods hick since I don’t necessarily think that “Cowtown” is a cultural pejorative. In the style of our romantic movie cowboys, I call those fightin’ words.

What really annoyed me is that the Star’s writer, Derek Donovan, agreed with the readers. “I’m with the readers on this one – ‘Cowtown’ is backward-looking, derogatory and largely outdated,” he said. Tell that to other major cities such Dallas-Fort Worth who have made their stockyards and cowtown image into an international draw for business, culture and tourism alike.

I guess Donovan didn’t read a previous description in the Kansas City Business Journal that said, “The Kansas City area too often has tried to deny its past as a center for agriculture and as a cow town. It’s time we look at this history with pride – and with recognition of the bright potential it continues to provide.”

What Donovan considers “backward-looking” I consider a rich history of traditions. Kansas City was one of the major hubs of the cattle feeding/transportation industry as this country grew. Our historic Kansas City Stockyards district hasn’t moved livestock through its pens in a couple of decades, but it still hosts our world-famous American Royal. Since 1899 the American Royal has attained the position as not only one of the oldest and best-loved traditions in Kansas City, but also one of the largest combined livestock, horse show and rodeos in the nation.

We are famous for our barbecue, our jazz, our Royals and our Chiefs (I admit, I’m a bigger fan of our barbecue!). We have restaurants, art, music and all the culture you want. We are as big or as small of a town as you want it to be. In less than 20 minutes from my office one direction takes me downtown and another direction takes me to the wide-open country to ride my horse. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

What these city folks who are embarrassed of all things tied to agriculture don’t understand is that agriculture and livestock are not in our past at all. Agriculture has been and is one of the largest sectors of this city’s economy.

Within the 350 miles of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, there are more than 45% of the fed cattle in the U.S., more than 40% of U.S. hogs, and 20% of U.S. beef cows and calves. And I’m not even counting the contribution of crops like wheat, corn and soybeans. The Corridor boasts several international research organizations and more than 125 animal health companies. And while our Kansas City Repertory Theatre might bring some “culture” to us backward ag folks, our little ol’ animal health and ag industries provide thousands of jobs, ground-breaking research and economic stability to the entire Kansas City area. Oh yes, they also provide a significant amount of food that feeds not only the “cultured” city dwellers their awesome ribeyes at a downtown restaurant, but the world as well.

I’m getting tired of the urbanites in many major (and even medium-sized) cities who regard agriculture as backward and embarrassing in one sense, yet they are the ones who now want to be locavores or city-based farmers with urban chickens and rooftop gardens to “re-connect” with our agricultural roots. What they don’t realize is that here in Kansas City we’ve been connected the whole time.

Rock on, Cowtown. I’m proud to call you my home.

Geni Wren
Editor, Bovine Veterinarian Magazine