Have you ever heard Paul Harvey’s The Man and The Birds? It’s about a man who doesn’t go to church at Christmas with his family because he doesn’t believe that Jesus would turn into a man. It doesn’t make any sense to him.
After his family leaves for church, he finds a flock of birds struggling in the weather. He desperately tries to help the flock find shelter in his barn but can’t get them to follow him. He then realizes they are afraid of him because he is so much different than them.
He wishes that he could become a bird, so he could gain the flock’s trust and they would follow him to shelter. He then realizes this is exactly why Jesus became a man, to get people to trust and follow him. Full disclosure: I am a Christ follower.
So many times when I’m talking with farmers about urban or Gen Z consumers, there seems to be an “us vs. them” attitude.
Farmers don’t understand the consumer’s lifestyle, their concern over what’s happening on the farm or with sustainability, and how they could work in the city.
Farmers will say to me, “If we [the dairy checkoff] would just tell them what’s happening on the farm, then they will trust us.”
To me, it’s a lot like the story above. No matter how much you preach to them, they aren’t going to move. They need to feel that you are just like them, only living in a different area. And in many ways, you are just like them.
So how do you get them to follow you?
Visit the city
The most effective way is to visit the cities. Several co-ops and local dairy checkoffs do city tours where farmers interact with urban consumers. If you can’t do that, then follow them online using TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Learn their language and see what’s happening in their lives.
Join their online groups
Instead of spending so much time in online ag and farm groups, consider joining other online groups. There are dad and mom groups. There are NFL team groups, food groups, and backyard garden groups. Or political groups (be careful there). Whatever you are passionate about, there’s most likely a group.
Engage in their conversations
Learn what they like to talk about and what they are passionate about. Ask questions of them. Get to know them on a personal level. Be nice. Be friendly. Be curious. And then share what you do. Trust me — they don’t know many dairy farmers, so you’ll be very intriguing to them.
Don’t educate them — just answer their questions
When you’ve been there long enough, the trust will build and you’ll become their dairy farming expert, their go-to person for food production. You will be their farmer friend who loves living outside of the city.
Discuss issues politely
Remember that you are there to encourage people to see your side of things. Fighting and shouting has never persuaded anyone. I use the example of arguing with a friend. You don’t want to hurt the other person or put them down. You want them to be happy about the choice they make, and you are concerned about this.
If you can understand their point of view and see the world the way they see it, then you have a good chance of understanding and addressing their concerns and possibly earning their trust.
Maybe they’ll even follow you, like the story says, back to the barn or online through social media because they trust you.