You’ve likely seen the bumper sticker proclaiming, “If you eat, you are involved in agriculture.” While the gist of that saying is certainly valid, the reality is that farm and ranch families actually comprise less than 2 percent of the U.S. population. So why does it feel like that other 98 percent is often out there trying to tell our story?
Each day you can get on social media or turn on the news and likely find someone speaking negatively about agriculture. From misleading nutrition claims to conflated environmental statistics, the industry is a regular target for misinformation.
Fortunately, scientific facts demonstrate the positive and encouraging story farmers and ranchers have to tell:
- Americans enjoy a food supply that is abundant, affordable and among the world’s safest, thanks in large part to the efficiency and productivity of America’s farm and ranch families.
- Today, one U.S. farm feeds 166 people annually in the U.S. and abroad.
- Two million farms dot America’s rural landscape, and 98 percent are operated by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations.
But without voices advocating and sharing factual information, that story can easily get drowned out by all of the negativity. Now more than ever, the agriculture community must step up to help spread the word and set the record straight.
From social media and public speaking to local events and personal conversations, advocating can take many forms, and all of it can help make a difference. For some, sharing photos or videos and talking live on social media platforms comes naturally and can be a great way to reach the masses and engage in conversations with people from a variety of backgrounds, interests and beliefs. But don’t discount the importance of face-to-face interactions with consumers. Hosting a farm tour for a local civic organization or moms group, or reading an agriculturally accurate book and answering questions about your operation during children’s time at the library can be great ways to reach individuals on a personal level and create a stronger appreciation for the work you do on your farm or ranch.
Shaping and Sharing YOUR Story
Regardless of how you advocate, the first step is developing YOUR story. Facts and figures are great ways to add validity, but consumers want to hear and see what happens on YOUR farm, how you care for YOUR land and YOUR animals, how YOUR efforts are impacting the environment and how that fits in with their beliefs and values.
In fact, veteran industry advocate Amanda Radke once told me that talking with consumers starts with identifying their key values – environmental stewardship, animal welfare, food safety, etc. – and having a conversation about those values to build common ground.
She said everyone eats and most everyone has similar values about food – it should taste good, be healthful, fit into a budget and be safe for us and the environment – so she initiates conversations around those shared core values to have a healthy exchange.
I also recently heard Chandler Mulvaney, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association director of grassroots advocacy and spokesperson development, explain the “Two C Model” that can be useful in conversations with consumers. It involves expressing how much you care – both about being a member of the agriculture community and the other person’s concerns – and how capable you are as a producer.
He said conversations should be intentional and engaging, and show the level of care producers invest in raising livestock and providing food for the world. At the same time, productive conversations should also demonstrate that producers are constantly adapting and improving to be more efficient with their resources.
Taking the time to think through your story and how you can relate it to consumer concerns will help bridge the gap and create creditability in your messaging and conversations.
Another great way to improve your advocacy skills and gain confidence in talking with different audiences is to increase your knowledge about the industry as a whole. There are many programs and tools available through commodity groups and industry organizations that can help build an in-depth understanding of the different sectors.
For example, the Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program is a free, self-guided, online course to help all members of the beef community answer questions about beef and raising cattle. The Beef Checkoff-funded resource addresses environmental sustainability, beef nutrition, animal welfare and beef safety while taking advocates through the beef lifecycle, from pasture to plate. The information can help supplement your personal story and assist in answering specific questions consumers may have.
Many other similar resources exist through state livestock associations and Farm Bureau organizations and through programs like Beef Quality Assurance.
A Word About Extremists
Unfortunately, there are those people out there who will never change their opinions about agriculture, no matter what science says or how personal you make the conversation.
As an enthusiastic beef advocate, Brandi Buzzard Frobose regularly engages with curious social media followers, but she also deals with her fair share of activist trolls. If they are merely making comments but not being hateful, she advises just to ignore them. If the comments become cruel or denigrate her or her family, she quickly blocks them. She has even found that many of her followers will chime in and address the person so she doesn’t have to expel time and energy on someone who is just being facetious.
The Time Is Now
The great thing about advocating is that you get to set the rules based on your skill set, available time and comfort level. Regardless of how you connect with consumers, it’s important that we all start sharing our stories of passion, legacy, stewardship and sustainability so others (many of whom are several generations removed from the farm) don’t make them up for us.
Macey is a ranch wife/farm mama from central Kansas. She uses her experience in the agriculture industry to write for several state and national publications and share her family’s adventures on social media. When she’s not writing or wrangling her four kids, she and her husband Josh stay busy running their custom backgrounding operation, livestock auction barn and family farm.