Not so long ago, we welcomed our first visitors to our farm. At the time, I wasn't exactly sure what to show them, what to say or what they'd be most interested in seeing. But we easily filled the time looking at machinery, touring our buildings, and discussing the crops we grow and how we know where to plant them.
Shortly after that I was talking with a local teacher about growing peas. She looked me straight in the eye and asked, "What does a pea plant look like?" I paused, once again realizing that the things I see every day are foreign to many people, whether they live two minutes or two hundred miles from my farm. These experiences opened my eyes to the importance of sharing my world. I needed to open the doors to our farm in order to open the minds of others.
Over the past few years I have expanded the ways I share happenings and insights from our family and farm. I started by sharing on social media, mostly through pictures. Then came the blog. After that, I took on more opportunities to speak to neighbors and groups.
More recently, I began organizing community events and classroom visits to bring people to our farm for a variety of activities that introduced them to agriculture. We've taken early morning 5K hikes through prairies, farm fields and pastures lined with posters sharing fun facts about agriculture, and hosted curious groups of second-graders as they bottle-fed calves and learned to plant a garden. Nothing beats these rewarding experiences, and I am always eager to plan the next.
As I have gained practice and confidence with these interactions, I developed a few guidelines.
Share what you do and what you know. Don't stage things and don't be afraid to just go with the flow.
Always be courteous, gracious and professional. Smile!
Make connections to things people already know about, find similarities that you, your farm and your audience share.
Think about what kinds of questions or responses you may receive as you share and consider how you will handle any hot-topic questions that may pop up!
We can't be a master of all, just what we do ourselves. Be prepared with additional resources such as links, educational materials and names of contacts for sharing.
Stay positive and always remember that your reach goes much further than the direct audience you "see." It's all about connections!
Think about what you could share from your farm. What questions have people already asked you? Are you ready to open your doors in order to open the minds of those near and far? It's time to take a step, have some fun and make a difference!
Editor's Note: Katie Heger, a member of AFBF's GO Team, blogs at hegerfamilyfarms.wordpress.com and shares at Heger Farms on Facebook. Katie and her husband farm corn, soybeans and wheat in central North Dakota. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author. This article originally appeared on porkbusiness.com in October, 2016.