I’ve got a bone to pick with “agvocacy.”


Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve had a burr under my saddle, in regards to agvocacy. I’ve been probably a little grouchier than warranted. Part of that is because I feel like our efforts to engage in agricultural dialogue, has plateaued. Part of it is because many people in the agriculture community operate on the same stubborn, free-spirited, willful mentality that has helped farmers and ranchers survive this long. Tenacity is an asset in some ways, a shortcoming in the other. I’m going to reach a level of candidness in this post that I generally reserve for good friends. I’m going to address the problems I see in the community’s approach to agvocacy, and I fully expect to receive some sort of challenge. I want this conversation to happen. It needs to happen.

  1. We need to stop being so conceited. Growers have gotten into the mindset that they are entitled to respect, simply because they produce goods. I know for a fact that farmers and ranchers are some of the hardest working people on this Earth, and that most things are impossible without them. However, no one likes to be strong-armed into appreciating something. Instead of saying, “You should respect me because I grow ______,” enter into a conversation as equals. The example I use to support this case is, “Your dry-cleaner cleans your clothes. Does that mean you automatically have a deep and abiding respect fo them?” Same with the people who cook your food at a restaurant, fill your cup with drink at a bar, or help you balance your finances at the accountant’s office. We need to stop operating on a sense of entitlement.
  2. We need to remember that producers are also consumers. We all have to make a trip to the grocery store at some point in time…unless, that is, you’ve figured out a way to grow toilet paper and toothpaste on tree or as a row crop. It’s time to start acknowledging that we need other sects of society just as much as they need us.
  3. We need to stop being so gosh-dang argumentative. I’m not going to go into detail about the demographics we need to target or the strategy for doing that. You need to find what works best for you. However, there is a constant issue where agriculture tends to be a little too zealous in their desire to refute others, to the point of it being a turn-off to people in the middle of the road.
  4. We need to start promoting agriculture as an entire industry, not just the products we want to sell. Corn farmers want you to use ethanol because it raises the price at which they can sell corn. Beef farmers and ranchers want you to eat beef. It’s an incredibly harmful status quo. This is just an example, but rather than a beef producer saying, “You should eat beef!” it is more beneficial for agriculture for them to open a dialogue about how meat plays a worthwhile role in a healthy nutritional balance. We need to support each other more. If we keep on this track, I worry that segmentation between producers will increase. It will be harder for people of different agricultural sects to work alongside each other for the greater good of agriculture.
  5. We need to diversify our content. If all you do is blog/write/tweet about agriculture 24/7, you eventually lose a sense of connection with the audience (unless they, too, are agriculturalists). In order to connect with consumers (remember, though, we are ALL consumers), we need to find common ground. We need to write about things that non-agriculturalists would identify with. We have massive potential in regards to building bridges, but we are so wrapped up in the one thing we are most passionate about, that we don’t necessarily know how to talk about much else. A perfect example of how to do this right is The Pioneer Woman. Ree Drummond mixes agriculture in with a very diverse blend of content. People come to read about cooking, child-rearing, home-schooling, photography, movie quotes, and dogs…and end up learning about Oklahoma cattle ranching. Another great example of this is my good friend, Janice Person. She is passionate about agriculture, especially cotton…but she also blogs about travel, current events, and culture. We could all take a page from Janice’s book.
  6. We need to admit our own shortcomings. We need to learn to say “I don’t know” when someone asks us a question we can’t answer. We need to be able to step back, look at our approach, and reassess the quality of work we are doing. Agvocates have a long battle ahead of them, and because of that, we need to make conscious efforts to do the best we possibly can. We, as a community, have a ton of talent and do a lot of things RIGHT. However, I think we all, collectively, need to be better about focusing on continuing education. Just because we learn how to blog and tweet, doesn’t mean it’s time to stop learning. In fact, that means it’s time to continue learning how to do it all better and more effectively.

Alright, I’m done on my soapbox. I can’t claim that I’m innocent of any of these things. In fact, I know I’m just as guilty as the rest of the community. And this post is not meant to be an insult to anyone; it is an honest telling of some of the roadblocks that I see for the efforts I care about. We are our own worst enemy. It’s valuable for any movement to be approachable, personable, adaptive, resourceful, and proactive. If we want to see long-term results for the work we do now, we need to continue to see our own flaws and act on them.

So, tell me: does this post offend you? Why? Do you agree with me? What could be added? What else should we consider as we work to move forward in agvocacy? Please, I beg you, share with me. This is a post written out of pent frustration, but I sincerely hope that we can open up some dialogue regarding our cause and our approaches.
Thank you for your time.
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62 thoughts on “I’ve got a bone to pick with “agvocacy.”

  1. I thought I was going to get into a debate with you but I agree with every point you made. Especially the first one. I cringe whenever I hear “Farmers are the hardest working people.” So what. I don’t think I work any harder than my relatives in the big city do. It’s just different work.

    One thing I will say though, I do get tired of the people who say negative statements and out-right lies about conventional farming but we have to be careful of what we say and have gentle engagement.

    thanks

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Judi! I’ve worked on farms, and currently work a city job. I like to think I work incredibly hard, on behalf of farmers and ranchers. My job is to help them share their stories, and at times it feels like I get slighted because I’m not sitting in the tractor seat myself. I agree that conventional farming needs to do a better job of speaking up for itself. However, need to find constructive, community-building ways to do that, rather than slinging mud or speaking down to people who haven’t been exposed to it. Thanks so much!

  2. I tell you, from some within the “agvocacy community,” I’ve felt like I wasn’t a welcome part of the discussion because I’m not a full time rancher. I get the feeling that our operation is too small to warrant inclusion. In my opinion, that’s no way to build a community.

    • I agree, Becky. I often feel the same distance because I work in ag comm, rather than on a farm. I know it isn’t always intentional, but the segmentation in the industry is truly one of the biggest roadblocks we need to overcome. I am a firm believer that we need ALL types of ag (large, small, medium, organic, conventional, direct-to-consumer, value-added, etc.) in order to have a truly sustainable system. Agriculture needs to get over itself and start playing nice, both inside of the industry and out. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Right on Kelly,

    I have had a similar conversation with my dad several times. He insists that I am wasting my time talking to individuals off the farm. When they go hungry they will find out how much they need us.

    However I disagree, I dont like to live next to angry neighbors that disagree with everything I do simply because nobody took the time to explain to them what I am doing. Simple conversations to find out what their concerns are and a brief explanation normally goes a long ways. If they still disagree with my practices after our discussion I am ok with that, at least they were able to hear my reasons for farming the way I do before they came to their final opinion.

    • Conversations are key to building communities, and communities are valuable to sharing a message. However, there’s been a problem of late with people shouting into the darkness, preaching to the choir, or trying to shove their message on people who would otherwise be interested but are turned off by the methods. We need to be patient, creative, innovative, and overall friendly with our approaches. If you try and force your opinion on anyone, you’re only hurting your cause. Mike, thank you, as always, for taking time to read and respond. Thank you, also, for being a sounding board for a lot of the opinions and experiences that may or may not make it into this blog.

  4. Kelly you articulated very well the challenge with special interest focus versus value-based common sense focus. It takes a level of awareness to realize that others get up early, work hard, and go to a second job…and go to the store and buy food, fuel, and fiber.

    • Thank you very much for reading and commenting. It’s difficult to truly shape the approaches of an entire community, so as a whole I think we all (the “agvocacy” community) needs to hold ourselves individually responsible for the way we speak to the public. I think we should expect a higher level of quality from ourselves, and demand the same from our peers. And I think one of the biggest issues we have it an inability to identify with the consumers. Thanks again for stopping by and leaving your thoughts!

  5. Spot on Kelly! I’m in total agreement. We are our own worst enemy. We are all getting a little too comfortable in our skin and it’s time to step back and reevaluate ourselves. Otherwise we may be heading down a long, hard road. And though we all may have started out with good intentions, the road to hell, well, it’s paved with those. Thank you for taking the time to write this! I hope that this will spur some good discussion and that we’ll be able to both learn and grow from .

    • Thanks, Jesse! As always, your feedback and thoughts are greatly appreciated. And exactly, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Just because we’ve learned the basics of our tools, does not mean it’s alright to stop learning. We’ve hit a lull, a plateau, a rough patch, whatever you want to call it. Any way you cut it, we need to give ourselves a “kick in the pants” as you said. (I love the way you phrased that, by the way!) Keep up your great work, and good luck in the coming week!

  6. Preach on! Seriously, I’m am in total agreement and could not have said it better. I’ll take each line item separately:

    (1) I think this stems from feeling taken for granted and “hated on” for lack of a better word. Everyone seems to have an opinion about ag, whether or positive or negative, but people are more likely to voice complaints rather than compliments. Still, I think you are on the right path: remembering to appreciate others makes us better human beings in general.

    (2) Wouldn’t it be neat to grow tp, though?

    (3) Oh, don’t even get me started on this one. I sometimes wonder if sometimes farmers argue just to have something to say. (This is coming from someone who has only been around farmers for the last 5 or so years.)

    (4) This is a big one for me, and something I see a lot of. The bickering between commodities and crops is defeating the power of the group as a whole. Personal example: Corn vs Sugar regarding ethanol & renaming HFCS “Corn Sugar.” Whew! Lots of opinions on that one!

    (5) You gave two AWESOME examples! We try to do that with our blog, Hey Hungry People. Wilson gives the updates of what’s going on around the farm and I talk about what’s going on in the farmhouse. We try to include family stuff, recipes, and pets just to broaden the scope of the blog.

    (6) This is something that Wilson had to learn at LSU in grad school. Saying “I don’t know but I’ll find out and get back to you” and then following up with an answer was a major part of his Master’s Degree program. He has in turn taught me a great deal about doing that, especially with our children. They are learning that adults don’t know everything and how to find information. Great all-around skill.

    It seems as if I’ve written a blog post in response to yours! I was not in the least bit offended by your post. Keep up the great work, “agvocating!”

    Dana

    • Thanks so much, Dana! I agree, it’d be ABSOLUTELY fantastic to have a toilet paper tree in my backyard. Would save me some unexpected trips to the grocery store…

      As far as other feedback, you’re spot on. It’s never easy to change people’s minds about something, especially in the face of people blatantly telling you that you’re wrong. I think we need to be better, faster, and smarter about how we do this agvocacy gig. One of the things I am proudest of in my efforts to educate the community is my ability to say, “I don’t know.” It takes a lot of effort to do that sometimes, but I’d rather be known as the person who can direct someone to a better resource, than the one who lied or argued to cover my behind. I don’t know if that last sentence made sense…I apologize!

      Keep up the great work on your blog and keep on keepin’ on for ag. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  7. Thanks for the compliment. Being mentioned anywhere near Ree Drummond is quite an honor, particularly since I know how much you think of her!

    The way I view a personal blog is it is a way to build connections. For me, the connections are on different topics, just like the friends in my hometown. I tried doing it another way but I have trouble breaking things apart!

    You make good points on the other and I hope that some of this is just a process of people maturing in the way they use social media, but of course we all know some people may not come around to the understanding I have that calls for all access agriculture. I refuse to see the narrow path only cause its not the way my kitchen gets stocked…. my reality includes food from a tiny CSA as well as major global brands. Those things come from a variety of farms.

    To look at it all from a positive mindset is important to me too…. there are enough downers already. I don’t need to join their group!

    • Good point on a positive outlook, Janice. We need to be both optimistic and approachable. Gloom-n-doom does us no good, and a negative message does NOT help. One of the biggest turnoffs I see in agriculture is, “Without us, you don’t have _____.” Not the sort of message we should be using to try and build communications!

      As far as referencing you beside Ree Drummond…well, you’re kind of a blogging goddess. I admire your ability to spread upwards and outwards. You do everything “right” and I aspire to someday hit that place. You’re a fantastic friend, a great person to work alongside, and a pretty kick-butt role model, to boot. Keep doin’ what you’re doin’, JP. Thanks so much for commenting and reading. I greatly appreciate it!

  8. Nice read and so true. I can’t Wright so I don’t blog, I do read a handful or so and they are real. By real I mean they not only Wright about what they know but the good and bad days, their personal life, and seem to acknowledge other views. I have a twitter and FB acct and like reading about everyones day to day life, kind of make me keep focused in mine. If I don’t make that connection, wonder how many others will. It doesn’t take me long to scroll past constant pat on the backs, so why is that what we continue to do. Once again, good read.

    • Thank you for taking time to read my post and comment. I greatly appreciate it! Social media is meant to be “social,” so it’s important that we remember to keep it that way. We need to avoid talking just to hear our own voices. That does us no good. Thanks again for reading and have a lovely week!

  9. I don’t really go for the “we work so hard” approach either. Granted we don’t have livestock anymore, and those guys do work pretty hard, but I worked a lot harder from a standpoint of hours spent at work and the sheer volume of things I had to accomplish in a day when I managed retail stores for six years. Row crop farming is pretty laid back compared to that environment. I get up two hours later than I used to, and I get home an hour or two earlier most of the year, and I don’t have a Blackberry that needs responded to 24/7. Now I actually look forward to the busy seasons and enjoy knocking down consecutive 15hr days. I can do that now because I’m passionate about my work. In my previous career I worked 50-60hrs/wk because I had to.

    Also it’s true we take a lot of financial risks with land, equipment, buildings, and inputs, but I don’t think we need to use it as a way to gain sympathy from the general public. Just like when you hear all the talk about corn prices doubling recently to nearly $8.00, I might mention to someone that two years ago I sold corn for $3.12, but when prices get back to that level (and they will) I don’t need pity from anyone. I signed up for that kind of market fluctuation when I started farming full-time. It just goes with the territory.

    Will I give my two cents worth when I see where someone has put out information that is either lacking and/or misleading on a subject I’m passionate about due either to ignorance or to promote a certain agenda? Yes, and I was kind of looking for that fight when I starting blogging, tweeting, etc. But I’ve learned quickly that simply telling the story of what I do and letting people know what I think about things without attacking someone else outright is the best way to reach a larger audience.

  10. This is a great post and one that I am going to think on and then go back and read again to make sure that I did not miss anything…

    One point that I would add is that we need to be empathetic. You touched on that a little bit, but it is something that I try to think about every time that I blog. Some times I am more successful than others…It is so important to empathize and try to understand someone else’s viewpoint. That is where you can work to find common ground. Once you find common ground, then you can have a conversation. Conversations are where learning takes place and leaves us all better off than where we started.

    Thanks for encouraging us all to think.

    Anne (Feed Yard Foodie)

  11. OK, I will be the bad apple. I can agree that corn farmers are proud to be corn farmers, and beef ranchers are proud to grow beef. Those with degrees in agricultural areas are proud of their accomplishments as well. However, I feel it’s a pretty broad swipe at your base to claim farmers need to fall into lockstep with social groups based on the beliefs of those looking to make a living on Ag without farming.

    Most established farmers distrust traders, the internet, and anyone who is not out there working to produce the product. With a lifetime of farming under my belt, I spent 4 years blogging about farming. During this time, I couldn’t find a niche for traffic. Farmers were farming, not reading blogs. When “agvocacy” came along, my wife and I had many discussions concerning my “throwing in the towel” to corporate folks just so I could find others interested in the same topics. “Some of them are farmers”, my wife said. “Just ones looking for positions on boards or getting hired” was my response.

    With the new mobile media, it has changed. I see farmers on social sites now. They are dairy, beef, corn, pork, sunflower, organic and traditional farmers. Growers from all aspects of Ag are trying to get their opinions out there. Agvocating is a good thing. Trying to bend new farming web users into a syllabus or curriculum seems risky

    • Paul, you’re entitled to your opinion, and I’m entitled to mine. Since you’ve voiced yours, I’ll voice mine:

      I have been in the “farmer” category. My father was a farmer, until his early death when I was 12. If it weren’t for his passing, we would still be farmers. Throughout high school and the first few years of college, I made my way through by farming. I worked, I ran tractors, and I was hands-on. I understand agriculture. I understand the work and the effort and the dedication. I have been there, and I “get” it. Now, because I love agriculture, I’ve decided that I want to work in ag comm. If it weren’t for my experiences on the farm, I never would have pursued this career. I don’t consider myself as “making a living on Ag without farming.” I don’t think I am exploiting ag, or asking for undue respect. If anything, I feel blessed to have an opportunity to work in ag, even if I haven’t had the chance to have farming as my career. I love the people I work with, I love the mission we are dedicated to, and I love knowing that I understand where my resources come from.

      I don’t think it’s fair that you suggest I am bending farming to a “curriculum.” If anything, I think I’m pointing farmers towards best practices that improve the influence of their message over the long term. This isn’t some unfounded rant without logical back-up. The things I say are based off of formal education and real, true hands-on experience, gained working with people in and out of agriculture. I personally think all growers could use a wake-up call when working with consumers on sharing ag’s story. Some will be willing to listen. Some will not. If you fit into the latter, them I am sorry.

    • What about those that purchase the product? You would have nothing to grow if someone wasn’t buying it. Aren’t they as important as your ownself even though they are not actively growing the commodity?

      What about the particular sector that directly buys your product? You raise beef right? Isn’t the slaughterhouse/processor as important as you? Whatever the crop, most likely someone is processing it. Distributing it. Retailing it. Making it into a food product that will eventually make it to a grocery store shelf in a different form. Aren’t they essential links in the chain that is equally important to your (or anyone’s) particular crop? Many of which are not actively involved in raising livestock or growing crops but are making a living on agriculture w/o farming. Without ALL the links in that chain, you would have nothing to grow and we would have nothing to buy.

      Additionally, you mentioned that ur blogging efforts about farming was having difficulty finding traffic cuz farmers were farming. Is your goal to attract farmers? Don’t they already know about farming? Aren’t they already versed in the subject? That’s what I consider preaching to the choir, if your ultimate goal is to agvocate. In order to do that, you have to reach out beyond the agriculture sector and accept those that don’t farm. That’s who you wants to know you, learn about what you do, and have a conversation with you.

      • Sing it, Amy! You say it so well. And I think it’s valuable to note that not all agribusiness professionals are just in it to make a buck “off of” farmers’ hard work. The reason I work in ag comm is because I love ag and want to work WITH farmers and HELP farmers.

        Amy loves her job. There is no denying that. If you have EVER seen her Facebook feed, it’s riddled with #agnerd butcher geekery. It is FANTASTIC. Put aside the fact that she is also a farmer. Look at JUST the purchasing/processing side of her life. She’s doing this because she obviously loves what she does and who she works with.

        Working in the agricultural chain is incredibly rewarding. It’s easy to be passionate about it. However, let’s face it…not all of us are lucky enough to be farmers. (Although, Amy’s got the best of both worlds…lucky lady.)

  12. Nice job, Kelly. I have felt for some time that ag as an industry should have a unified message as often as possible when it comes to dealing with government, consumers, etc.

    I do think, however, that part of the “I deserve respect because I am a farmer” mentality is that many of the producers who are still active grew up in a time when farmers were respected just for being farmers. Well, that isn’t the case anymore. We in the ag industry have lost the respect (or trust) of many consumers, and it’s time we realize that respect needs to be earned, not something you are entitled to.

    I agree with many of those who have commented, we need to be approachable, empathetic, open and honest when speaking with consumers. I think one thing to remember is that consumers are our customers, and should be treated as such.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you very much! I agree 100%; consumers have lost respect and trust regarding farmers and ranchers. It is up to the agovacate community as a whole to rebuild that reputation. (I say the agvocacy community, not just the producers. Because producers are paid to grow the goods, agricultural communicators and other ag professionals are there for a reason, as well.) We want to rely on farmers and ranchers to get the word out, but they can’t do it alone. As a whole, we all need to buck up and work hard to regain the public’s trust.

      Thanks for taking time to comment and read!

  13. Outstanding blog Kelly! I couldn’t have said it better myself, though I’ve been trying to articulate similar feelings for some time.
    Growing up in Ontario, farmers are less than 2% of the population and are the largest economic drivers. It is certainly a point of pride, but we can (and do) take it too far. When 98% of your consumers are not in your situation, it means that we need to do a better job of entering a dialogue. Just like I don’t like being told that I’m wrong by someone (who I judge) that has no knowledge of what I do every day, they don’t appreciate me telling them that their concerns aren’t relevant because I know what I’m doing. We as farmers are not only terrible for the “crimes” you’ve identified, we are also guilty of preaching to the choir. Its easy to think you’re always right when everyone agrees with you, maybe, just maybe we should find out WHY people disagree with us, what their concerns are, what the basis is. Can we find common ground? Or, do we continue to approach the concerns of the majority of our consumers with the same haughty, offhand manner that we’ve been dealing with for ages? When it comes to the farm industry, we can and should be proud of the strong individualism that allows us to thrive, however, going back to census data, while 2% is a very small, almost insignificant number, breaking it into smaller components is even more injurious to us. We need to learn how to stand together better, instead of taking our ball from the playground every time things don’t go our way and trying to recruit some friends to start a new game, let’s build a bigger field and keep the game in progress going, you waste too much time picking new teams. Breed associations are great for livestock producers, but we are all livestock producers at the end of the day, those full time cash croppers and full time stock producers could gain so much more from working together than either could gain from working apart. Let’s do it! The problem is though, that we know all this, our weakness lies in that its easier to find fault than solution. I won’t pretend to have all the answers. Here are a few things we, as agvocates can do to start: 1) get our facts straight and provide them in a way that doesn’t rip another ag sector publicly none of this organic/conventional hating, as businesses, farmers must make the right decisions for themselves, it may not be the same for all. 2) get media training, or befriend a fellow producer that has. We need to use media most effectively, the consumers are clamouring for our sidfe of the story, but we need to provide it. 3) strange thought here, but get in the “lions den” itself. Befriend non-farmers, especially those in the inter-city or suburbia with no discernible ag background, they can be our sounding boards, but we need to make the connection first. Thanks for this Kelly, Joe

    • I agree. We need to spread outwards. If we only talk to producers about ag, then we aren’t making any difference. We need to be willing to start conversations with people outside of ag. I have lived in cities and suburbs, and if you are willing to have the patience and dedication to have a conversation, people will listen. Thank you so much for commenting and reading. I greatly appreciate it! Best wishes!

  14. I am relatively new to bloging and agvocacy. At first I though I just need to put my story out there and people will be as passionate about agriculture as I am. I am realizing that it is more about engaging in dialog and being open to hearing other people. I realize I am guilty of going into way too much detail and technical jargon so my wife incorporates her perspective on the farm and on our life in general. Like I said I am new to this and still have lots to learn but learning from this is as important as educating others about what we do.

  15. Wow! It’s like you read my mind. Item 3 alienating middle of the road folks struck a nerve with me. I make no secret that I am pro-organic and have grave reservations about GMO produce…..but I still believe in American agriculture…..and finding common ground. As defenses go up, and the call to circle the wagons goes out…the “us” and “them” mentality divides us in a time when we need to be sticking together.

    • Thanks for much for stopping by and responding, Joyce. It’s much appreciated. I have always admired your ability to have friendly, open dialogue with people who follow different ideologies than you. I think we’ve had this discussion before, but I try my best to support all of ag. I have no problem eating beef that is raised on GMO corn, but will also enjoy some fantastic organic produce at the farmer’s market. I agree that the polarized sides tends to be much too defensive; one of the big issues is conventional vs. organic. Another one that grinds my gears is when meat producers “hate” vegetarians. They seem to forget that somewhere, a farmer had to grow the produce and grains that those non-meat eaters enjoy. (And let’s be realistic, not all vegetarians are animal rights activists. I know many wonderful non-meat eaters who are content to stick to their own guns and let others be left to their own views.)

      Sorry, hopped onto my soapbox there for a second. Anyways, thanks again for stopping by and leaving your thoughts!

      • I have a good friend who is a horse trainer. He doesn’t eat much meat because he doesn’t smell as much like a predator when he doesn’t eat meat and it makes his work with horses that much easier. People avoid meat for all sorts of reasons
        not just because they are opposed to it.

      • Great point. It’s not always just an “anti-meat” agenda that keeps folks from being meat eaters. There’s a wide variety of reasons why someone would decrease or end their meat intake. I know for a fact that I could probably overcome some problems if I reduced my meat consumption. In fact, I probably will considerably when I go back to college in the fall. (Bear in mind, my family raised beef cattle until I was 12. This isn’t an anti-meat or anti-ag vendetta. It is a personal reason to adjust my habits.) Thanks for additional feedback and offering a great example!

  16. You go girl! Let’s push through this plateau.

    I find that human nature is to give it your all, and then when you get tired, you relax and fall into bad habits. This results in a plateau. It’s a common issue for people trying to lose weight too. Keep pushing the community and looking at different ways to succeed (like a good personal trainer would do), and we’ll continue to push towards our goals.

    Keep it up Kelly!

    • Thanks, Robin! That’s a great metaphor; we need an agvocacy personal trainer to help us change the routine and work through the fatigue. I think it’s valuable to note that we have a chance at a really strong community. We just need to do a better job of adapting and adjusting. Thanks for your time, Robin!

  17. Great blog with just as great comments from others. I sense a new trend in Agvocacy…with better results. No one likes someone who always “toots their own horn”. I have been trying to do more listening than talking as of late. I will continue to change the way I use social media and communicate with those physically around me. (I’m not anywhere close to be where I need to be!) Farmers and others in the agriculture industry don’t have to automatically change at the whim of others. But we do need to be approachable. This requires a listening and empathetic stance. Who knows…someone that “doesn’t know anything” might have a better idea! (It’s happened before!) We all need each other in this chain of life.
    Finally, I’m also tired of the creation of larger gaps between segments in the ag. industry. It may feel good or benefit you at first to distance yourself from others. But as you do that, you’re making yourself an easier target later that doesn’t have a friend in the world. It is possible to show and talk about how and why you do what you do without crapping on someone else.

    • I love your point about closing the gaps between agricultural segments. It’s very true. While we like to think short-term that attacking another segment would help us out, in the long run it’s harmful for all of the industry. Organic and conventional groups need each other to balance the market out. The beef and dairy industry are often at odds but they end up relying on each other, as well. And when we alienate all of the other segments, we end up out at sea, alone. And who is going to help fight back when the sharks start circling? Fantastic observation, and thank you for commenting!

  18. Kelly,

    I really enjoyed this post. I am passionate about agriculture, but am not directly involved in production. I grew up in a rural area and never dreamed that I would someday being working in anything related to ag. My experience has been in communications, international policy making and helping organizations make the transformations that will allow the farming system to adjust and address its sustainability challenges. I get very annoyed by dogma. I am convinced that sustainable development cannot be achieved if we don’t make the agricultural system less leaky. That is not any sort of an accusation aimed at farmers…whether it’s globally low average nutrient use efficiency or post-harvest losses, the system as a whole is fairly inefficient, and we need ever-improving technologies and techniques so that farmers can keep getting better at what they do. Plus we need the right policies and other framework conditions to make it attractive and feasible.

    Just recently, I was musing about how effective agvocacy can be if only agvocates are reading each other’s blogs. I’ve noticed that my blog posts about agriculture get MUCH less traffic than other topics. Part of any good social media strategy is going out to other people’s blogs and sites and joining the conversation there; not just expecting people to find you. That being said, I really liked your suggestion about mixing up the content to draw in non-specialists.

    Feel free to drop by my blog CommunicAction (http://ksukalac.posterous.com) and join any of the conversations there.

    • I agree whole-heartedly that interacting with each other is a vital part of building community. I encourage agvocates to read each other’s blogs. At the same time, we want to avoid preaching to the choir. While it would help us build a stronger community, we also need to avoid writing for a strictly ag audience (unless, that is, we AIM to write for an ag audience).

      I love the parralel you drew with farm technology. Just as we need to adapt to new trends and technology on the farm, we also need to do that with agvocacy. Great point! Thank you so much for reading and commenting, it’s much appreciated.

  19. Agree totally on 1,2,3 – good points. #4 – well we know people need to eat more rabbit and that it’s far superior to other food choices. 😀 (KIDDING!!) Yes all need to work together – it seems with social media we have a better chance to learn about the different aspects of agriculture. It also enables us to say “I don’t know but I know JUST the person to ask about (whatever)!” Be it popcorn, or beef, or hogs or almonds I know there’s someone just a message away that can answer questions based on fact and doing not just “someone said”. #5 – great point and will be working on doing some of that. #6 agree.

    We all have a great opportunity to work together.

    • Thanks, Jan. I’m proud of the fact that I can easily say, “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I know someone who does.” I’m proud of the fact that I have a broad network of producers I can turn to with questions. I think that’s an asset to our community, that we do not utilize enough. Thanks for commenting!

  20. Great Post Kelly,
    Two points I’d like to add are that we need consumers to realize that food prices will increase over time just like everything else. That is how the farmer needs to survive.
    Second point has been brought up in a few other replies but of course I’d rather you eat pork but I have no problem if you eat beef etc. What I have a problem with is when someone tells me that how I raise pork or that pork is not good. Or when we get a “bad apple” creating headlines and then they (media) paint us all with the same brush. These are the times for us to all become a bit more vocal.

    • Great points. Increases in prices are only natural as cost of living and inflation increases. That’s the nature of the world. In regards to your statement about media portrayal, I agree. I can’t tell you how strongly I empathize with this concern, for many reasons. We just need to continue to be the bigger people, share our message positively, and do what we can to peacefully and patiently refute the negative messages sent by other groups.

    • Agree but I think in some ways it goes a step further – and we aren’t connected enough to make use of it because we’re busy doing day to day things. “From the outside” pundits say much the same things about pork gestation crates, veal crates, rabbit cages, confinement chickens – we’re all fighting the same battle separately. Pork and chicken is obviously a bigger market – so if the proverbial wolf gets them so much the better but at the same time the coyotes are picking at the smaller, safer (and less numerous) targets – and it divides and conquers. I don’t know if there’s an easy answer – but surely we’re better together than separate. People wanting pork chops aren’t going to dine on rabbit and vice versa for a particular meal so it’s really not competition – but we’re dealing with similar issues that can be handled with public education.

  21. I know I’ve already commented but I’ve been thinking about one part of this post all day. What do we do when someone passionately believes in something that is just factually incorrect? How do we effectively disagree with someone who choses to spew gross inaccuracies? Oftentimes the statements most loudly proclaimed are mistaken for facts. I’m just trying to find a way to correct them without being argumentative when they don’t want to be corrected.

    • Sometimes all you can do is agree to disagree. Sometimes all you can do is state your point and accept that some people just aren’t going to be won over. Efforts are better spent on people willing to learn and listen. That doesn’t make it easier or less frustrating…it does, however, save you some grief and exhaustion.

  22. I wholeheartedly agree with you, particularly on point #4. I adamantly believe that we should NEVER air our dirty laundry. Different segments within agriculture may have differences (your corn/ethanol/beef division is a good example — one that irks me beyond words), and those differences have to be worked out, behind closed doors. But when we are dealing with people outside the industry, we must put our differences aside and support each other.

    The other thing, which ties in to your point #6, is to always remember that we aren’t perfect. Sometimes, if someone is criticizing agriculture, they may have a point. In my region, people often criticize our water use. Usually they just don’t understand how irrigation works. Sometimes they are either completely ignorant or blatantly biased. But there is ALWAYS room for improvement, and sometimes a person’s criticism is on point. If we aren’t open to that possibility, we (1) alienate people who are genuinely trying to understand; and (2) lose out on some really good ideas.

    People are often afraid that if we say, “Hey, you know – you have a point!” that we are giving in to all of our critics and admitting they are right. I don’t think so. I think it simply means that we realize that no one is perfect and we’re eager to hear ideas – from any source – that will genuinely help us improve.

    • Great points! I agree that it is valuable that we all devote some time to “agreeing to disagree.” Even if so-and-so doesn’t adhere to the same methods one person believes in, does not mean they’re entirely wrong. Kind of like the grassfed vs. cornfed debate; one isn’t an end-all answer to cattle production. Both are viable. Both yield results that fit a market’s needs and wants. So why is there a rift? It’s hard on the entire industry is we segment ourselves and point fingers.

      We all need to be willing to have open minds and a willingness to learn. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  23. Kelly, thank you for this post. I get so tired of hearing “People need to understand.” Well, they don’t think they do; they don’t want to understand. And, it’s OUR JOB to make them want to care – not to be turned off by our approach.

    The problem is that in many cases the people who are willing to step out as ag spokespersons are conceited by nature – the humble, authentic voices are more reluctant to tell their story, yet they likely would be better received by the consumer. We need to find that balance.

    My other favorite comment that proves your claim here is “People think milk comes from the grocery store.” Really, people? Sure, they don’t worry about it or milk their own cows, but by and large the population (especially those in a position to purchase our products) have a grasp of basic food production principles. If we condescend to our target audience, the chances of us connecting in a meaningful way is slim.

    The bottom line is that we’re all human. And with few exceptions, we all love animals, and we all love to eat. We’re the ones who separate ourselves as different, as special – not the consumer. If we can redirect that mentality, we could have a much greater impact on our individual and industry image.

    The only thing I would add is a #6. We need to listen to the consumer before we spout off.

    Melanie Wilt
    Farm wife & mom, Ag Communicator, PR Agency owner

    • You hit the nail on the head with your suggestion for #6: we need to listen. My friend, Mike Haley, wrote a blog post on the AgChat Foundation site a while back. He challenged agvocates to engage in a two-way conversation and to listen to the needs, concerns, and questions of the public. We all need to hold ourselves (and each other) accountable for generating a two-way conversation rather than shouting into the darkness. Thanks so much for reading and responding!

  24. I don’t agree with this whole “unified message” theme in the comments. To me, unified message is pretty much fake. All cattle farmers don’t agree with each other about growing practices, policies, feeding, etc… Just like just about every other sector in the agriculture. Now, unified message of agriculture as whole (and all it’s inner workings and intricacies) being a beautiful colorful industry; different story. That I can get behind.

    We don’t all agree. That’s honesty. It is important (IMHO) to maintain one’s own integrity and not a status quo of a particular sector or commodity group. #mytwocents

    • I know that realistically, we could never expect producers to be universally supportive of all practices. Then again, each producer uses their own methods because that’s what’s right for THEM. I guess what I am trying to say is that we DO need to promote ag as a diverse, well-rounded, “colorful” (great word!) industry. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough on that point. That’s always been my hope and my goal: that ag could someday overlook the barriers between methods and sizes, and acknowledge that all the different segments need each other to make up the diverse and variety-filled market we see today. Great clarification, Amy!

    • I didn’t think that the people advocating for a “unified message” are suggesting that everyone has to produce using the same methods, or even agree with each other’s methods.

      If I have a restaurant, I may think my neighbor is a fool for opening a fine dining establishment in this area, and I might tell him till I’m blue in the face that his tacky signage is a pox on the neighborhood, but when the city council comes in and tries to use eminent domain to take away his parking lot with little compensation, you can bet that I’ll show up at every council meeting to support him.

      To me, that’s what is meant by presenting a “unified message.” I don’t have to like his flashy neon signs or think his food is any good to remind the city council how much tax revenue his establishment brings in to the city and how many people are employed directly and indirectly by him, and to stand with him when I feel he is being targeted unfairly. It’s not being dishonest, it’s remembering that “there but for the grace of God go I.”

      I totally agree that ag is a beautiful colorful industry, one which has myriad practices, niches and personalities, and yes, maintaining our integrity is of the utmost importance.

      • Well said, and fantastic example. That is exactly the sort of point I am trying to get across. Thank you so much for giving an example in a way that conveyed my views so well. You rock!

  25. Fully agree with the unified voice comment Kelly, it saved me some tractor time thinking. The way we approach the diversity and “colour” in our industry is exactly that, explaining that what we do is a best fit for US. We are entitled to be proud of our practices, but need to respect other producers for their choice in practice. Respect need not constitute agreement. I look between my province and the one next door (Quebec) to see proof of the power of a unified voice: in Ontario, we have 3 (4 if you count UCFO) General Farm Organizations, Quebec has 1, guess who has more clout with the government and the general public, the one with a public dogfight for members? Or the one where the fights are behind closed doors? In Ontario, 1 group goes against everything the 2 larger groups promote, as a means of getting press, but their members are happy to take advantage of those wins. It is not an effective, or efficient way to operate. Fight in the back rooms folks, we have enough to fight against in public without fighting ourselves.

  26. This is very well written. Our family started a Naturally Raised Meat business 12 years ago, and we sell from the farm. I have seen alot in those 12 years. Our peers sometimes laughed at us because we were marketing our meats differently than the “norm”. And now that we have been sucessful, we have other peers who seem to be annoyed with our success. I guess, I just wish we could all support each other and realize that there are as many consumers as there are producers. It took me awhile to not feel threatened by larger producers, they are not anyones enemy. We all have different ways of farming, things that work on one farm and that family, will not work for another farm and family. And consumers have SO many preferences that there is room for all of us. The public needs to see us as a united group, not a bunch of angry defensive farmers who can’t even get along amongst ourselves. lol. I am thankful for this open form of constructive criticism, it is wonderful and a gift! It is true, we do need to get oer ourselves! I loved that part! We tend to have big egos as farmers. And it is what kept us going and growing against all the odds. We now need to redirect that energy and use it to tell our beautiful and unique stories without getting defensive. So what if the lady that stopped at my table at the Farmes Market only wanted our tomatoes and lettuce??? So what that shes a vegitarian?? When I asked her if she wanted to see some of our meats, she declined because she was a vegan. I didn’t bombard her with a million facts about what cow biproducts are in, I just smiled and said;”Cool! Enjoy the veggies! Thank you.” And she smiled back and told me to have a great weekend. anyway, I will end this. Thank you for being honest and brave!

    • Mendy, thank you very much for taking time to read and comment on my blog. I agree whole-heartedly; someone, somewhere along the line, had to work hard to grow a vegetarian’s food, too. We need to be conscious about the fact that all food (and most other goods) started somewhere. I appreciate your open-mindedness and your willingness to see that vital point. I understand the need to promote the products we work hard to raise, and within reason, that’s admirable. At the same time, we can’t deny the fact that there are a variety of customer demographics and markets that we all cater to, and we need to support one another across all of those markets. The defensiveness and self-interest will not help us in the long run. Thanks again for your time!

  27. Hi, Kelly! Just stumbled on your blog (yes, definitely a little late to the game) and am so very impressed with the thought and articulation in this post! Kudos! We are so very happy to have you this summer.

    • Thanks, Sarah! Coming from you, that means a lot. I’m thrilled to be here. I’ve picked up some truly amazing lessons along the way, about both myself and my potential career. I think AdFarm has played a big role in moving me a little closer to really understanding who I am. Thank you for reading and commenting, and I’ll be seeing you on Skype sometime soon! Best wishes!

  28. Kelly, Good post. I agree with much of what you say, and the comments have been very interesting. While I do believe ag should ‘get on the same page’ as much as possible, I see some (key word some) in ag backing off a battle because they don’t want to offend, though ‘some’ on the other side have no problem with offending, or spewing blatant falsehoods. We still need to stand up strongly for what we know (as in have science-based knowledge or other legitimate back up info about) is true and right. Striking the balance is the key. If we worry so much about not offending, we (and the public) can be pushed to the other’s misguided agenda. If we dig our heels in the sand without reasonable discussion, we can end the exchange and nobody wins. There are a few out there so lost in their agenda it’s, as you mentioned, not probably worth beating your head against a wall. Others truly want to learn. For those of us in agriculture, there’s also much to learn, especially from consumers, the caveat being, ‘where are the consumers getting their views from?’ That has to be factored into the discussion. The old saying, ‘if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything’ is true. As mentioned before, the key is finding the balance in educating and defending when necessary, and learning when needed. Sorry for the diatribe, you make many great points and I’m glad you’re working for agriculture.

  29. Farmers work hard. Steel mill workers work hard making the steel for tractor parts. Tractor factory workers work hard making tractors. Truckers work hard bringing the steel to the parts factories and tractor parts to the assembly plants and bringing the tractors to the dealers and out to the farms. Oil field workers work hard and refinery workers work hard making the crude products into diesel and gasoline. I will stop there but there are many, many workers that work before the farmer plants his seed and then after he/she harvests the crop that all contribute to getting the products produced, to the markets, and eventually purchased.

    The farm economy is very important to the overall economy. All aspects of production and consumption in this country and abroad are interrelated. A solution to “fix the economy” usually involves politicians either tweaking or revising parts of it. A “fix” to any segment affects the whole economy in one way or another, either positively or negatively. However, one piece at a time is the only way to fix the whole. It is sort of like “maintaining my car” and to do that I must maintain its parts in order to maintain the whole. When each part is properly maintained then the whole car is maintained. So, continue to be an advocate for agriculture and cooperate with advocates for all the interrelated businesses and just maybe all will be better off.

    We live in a complex world and each part is important.

    I am an advocate for farmers and ranchers, land stewardship, conservation, and private property rights. This is the first time I have read your blog and enjoyed reading this and the responses.

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