5 Ways to Be a Stronger Agvocate

July 17, 2015 12:00 PM
 
5 Ways to Be a Stronger Agvocate

Concerned about the public’s lack of knowledge about agriculture? Frustrated by the attacks on GMOs and livestock farming? Worried about how all of this might affect your family farm?

If you’re wondering what you can do, Dr. Cathleen Enright has a few ideas for you.

“We have to tell our story no matter what,” said Enright, the former executive vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO), speaking to the American Soybean Association on Tuesday in Washington. “Otherwise, other people will do it,” she noted, often with inaccuracies that can go viral, with disastrous results for farmers and ranchers.

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  1. Engage with the public, including the opposition. Speak up about agriculture at town halls and public meetings. Take a booth at a local event and tell people about sustainability and your farm’s operations.  “Talk about it,” said Enright, now CEO of the Pet Food Institute. “Nobody knows it better than you do.”
  2. Be open about your operations. “The days of not opening your doors or not talking about what you do—the good and the bad—are over if you are in a controversial business—and agriculture is a controversial business,” said Enright. Invite people to see your farm. Tell visitors about your challenges and how you are handling them, whether the issue is water quality or animal welfare. “Transparency is our greatest tool,” she explained. “We know from polling that is it is OK for us to be less than perfect, for our businesses to be less than perfect. We’re proud of what we do, and if we think somethings needs to change, we should change it. If we are afraid to share where we are weak, we should make it stronger. But if we’re weak, it’s OK if we do share, because the folks in the middle—not the radical opposition— understand there are vulnerabilities … That actually carries the day—that human face.”
  3. Share your involvement in your community. You may feel uncomfortable with promoting your own good works, but if you donate your time, money or farm’s products to help others, it’s important to let people know. Why? Because it shows how you and your fellow farmers contribute to their communities and makes it harder for outside critics to attack agriculture. “Make sure people understand you are part of the community,” Enright said.
  4. Reach out to local and national media. That includes news sites, advertising agencies, and entertainment companies. “If you have the resources, go on a media tour,” Enright said. Visit with newspaper, magazine, broadcast, and digital editors. “They will remember you, and they will call you when there is a crisis.”  She recalled telling an ad agency that one of their commercials, which showed a farmer chewing on hay, with a cow in the background and green beans at his feet, was simply not credible. “That’s a food safety nightmare!” she said.
  5. Take advantage of technology and social media. Blog posts, Instagram, tweets, Facebook, YouTube videos, drone footage, and even just digital photos of your farm on your smartphone can be great tools for educating people that you meet about agriculture. “I think many people who are throwing rocks at us have no idea what we do,” Enright said.

How do you tell your farm’s story? What do you do when you encounter critics with flawed information? Share your strategies in the comments.

 

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Comments

 
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John Bimly
Midwest, NE
7/23/2015 11:50 AM
 

  Good Article Alison. I think as we see social media take front page, it will be easier to show our farm's story. With instant updates going out it will be a easier battle when they see the morning routine of what we do. Often times I refer nay sayers to websites like Ag Web and The Farm and Ranch Exchange to see what all it takes and the cost incurred to run a operation and they should not take for granted the food that is put on their table everyday from the hard work of farmers and ranchers that put in countless hours on a thankless job. Thanks John

 
 
Lesa
Paducah, KY
7/23/2015 06:15 PM
 

  I agree with your article 100% and I have been advocating since 2007 with social media. Being an advocate takes a lot of my time and no, it is not paying the bills. An encounter with an Economic Professor in College in 1978 opened my eyes to the stereotyping of farmers. He made comments about subsidies and the farmers were getting rich. They spend their day in an air conditioned tractor with a television. I knew my Dad had worked hard to buy our first tractor with a cab. Personally, I had been on a tractor since the age of seven with no cab. Growing up on a family dairy farm, I learned the meaning of hard work and dedication to your cows and land from my parents. Today the public has a false sense of what happens on the farm. I share almost daily photographs and a commentary as what we are doing. My social avenues have grown and I hope I help put the face with the farm. Our farm is open to the public and my grandchildren are seen growing up on the farm. We have four generations living on our family dairy and grain farm. My dream would be the grandchildren carry on a long tradition of farming and being an advocate helps. I have not had any bad experiences with our social media. The grandchildren are a huge hit and everyone enjoys watching them grow. Our Facebook page has the largest following and I usually post about 15-20 photos from a day or week. Each photo has a caption and tells a story. Tells our story is my passion and along with farming. But too many unforeseen events is causing us to sale. The struggle to overcome appears to be a battle we can not win. I pray to continue farming and advocating, but it appears financially we will be closing soon. I will always be an advocate and feel this is the only way to share what happens on a farm. IF NOT, the public will not see the people produce their food.

 
 

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