Times are changing — and for farmers, that means doing their own public relations work.
Farming used to be a pretty well-respected profession. People trusted farmers and trusted in our production methods. But as consumers have become more and more removed from the farm, they have also been turning to other sources for information on agriculture. For many, especially young parents, self-appointed experts, interest groups, and social media stars have made themselves appear as the go-to place for trustworthy food knowledge.
But that doesn’t mean that these sources are telling the truth about food, farming, or agriculture. Instead of giving followers an inside, truthful look into modern production methods, many of these alternatives paint a grim and dire picture of farming that scares people into believing the food they eat isn’t safe, nutritious, or healthy. This is precisely why it is so important for farmers and those involved in agriculture — you know, that people that actually know something about the topic — to stand up and say something.
Unfortunately, sometimes farmers are more comfortable sitting in a cab all day, or hanging out with animals for company. Talking to people and reaching out isn’t always the most natural thing, and certainly not something we get trained to do. I’ve been actively writing and promoting agriculture now online for almost five years. While not everyone needs to start a blog, write regular articles, or manage a Facebook page of thousands, doing so has helped me figure out some things about crafting my message, engaging with the skeptical, and having meaningful conversations.
Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to make the most of your “agvocating” efforts.
1. Remember consumers are people, and farmers are, too!
The success of those non-farmer sources I mentioned usually relies on being personal. For example, Vani Hari, more popularly known as The Food Babe, regularly tells people that she used to be fat and unhealthy before changing her eating habits. This connects with regular people who are looking to change their diets because they also feel fat and unhealthy. If we want to reach consumers, we need to find a way to connect with them about food on a personal level. If you’re a farm mom, let people know that you also care about the food you feed your kids, and that you feel confident in the food coming from your farm. Meet consumers on a personal level and remind them farmers are people, too.
2. Be a storyteller
When I started writing, I hardly ever shared what was happening on the farm because it just seemed a bit boring. I mean, honestly, who cares how long it takes us to harvest corn or how late into the night we work. However, once I started posting those types of stories, I quickly realized that people are interested. Just because this has been a part of my life since I was born doesn’t mean that is the case for everyone. People are removed from the farm and want to know more about our way of life. Giving people a glimpse into our reality gives them the insight they are looking for, and shows them how much we care about the food we produce. So, go ahead, tell everyone at the next PTA meeting what you’re doing on the farm — you’ll likely find a captive audience.
3. Think before you share
While telling your own personal story is important, it is also just as important to consider how that story will be perceived. Many times farmers have shared videos or photos on social media, only to have those posts taken out of context by groups or people opposed to modern agriculture. This is particularly true with animal agriculture, because people do not always understand why certain things are done or why it is necessary. When posting any photos or video, consider what it will look like to people who aren’t familiar with what you’re doing. Is it possible that someone could misconstrue your actions? If so, consider whether there is a better way to present the information.
4. Admit when you don’t know something
Trust me on this one. If you’re having a conversation with someone and they express a concern, argument, or issue that you aren’t familiar with, it is perfectly acceptable to admit that you don’t know offhand. The best bet is to tell them you will look into it and get back to them on that issue. Then, find our favorite agriculture resource (like, for example, maybe The Farmer’s Daughter!) and get more information on that topic. It is far better to admit you don’t know something than tell someone inaccurate information that will hurt your credibility.
5. Be authentic
There’s no need to sugarcoat the realities of farming or make it seem totally glamorous. Yes, the countryside is pretty and romantic and photogenic. That doesn’t mean life on the farm is perfect. I recently encouraged a friend to share the fact that low corn prices, along with high seed and input costs, was really making the financial situation on the farm difficult. Just last week, I shared a photo on social media after my dad accidentally left the semi-trailer door open when he dumped corn into it. Authenticity reminds people that this is real life, which is messy and flawed. It also makes farmers seem a bit more relatable.
6. Come to the test prepared
If farmers have to be their own public relations experts, then they might as well be prepared. It is never a wise idea to go into the final exam unprepared having not studied or brushed up on the class notes. The same is true with agvocating. Read up on agriculture news. Stay abreast of the trending topics. Find out what politicians are doing. Remember the basics. Farmers do some of this as part of the job, but thinking about how you would explain these issues to someone in a conversation provides a different perspective.
If you forget everything I’ve told you here, just remember this: Farmers are the best advocates for their industry and talking about our industry to consumers is always better than sitting on the sidelines.
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