Sometimes, what seems perfectly normal to those of us in agriculture can be absolutely fascinating or repulsive to those not involved in agriculture. At a recent Ask a Farmer social media training workshop in Fresno, California, we talked about humanizing the face of the farmer through social media. Only a privileged few actually have the opportunity to grow our food and to live the farming lifestyle. So share. Open up that oyster shell and let your pearls shine.
- It doesn’t have to be some fancy thing: In the words of Temple Grandin, farmers and ranchers need to ‘open up the door’ to the public. Americans (and Canadians) are “hungry for information about what happens on farms and ranches.” Show every day farming activities – simple stuff – like feeding your cattle, cleaning out a grain bin, shaking an almond tree!
- Non-farmers like and trust farmers: In a recent survey, 90% of all voters have a strongly positive image of farmers. All the negative media attention paid to activists is misleading and morale busting. But it doesn’t stop there. It influences voters on specific policy initiatives that hamstring farmers. Tell your stories. And tell them often. If you don’t, others will.
- Talk about the tough stuff: While it’s relatively easy and safe to tell positive stories of farming and ranching, tackling sensitive issues takes courage, conviction and – well – careful thought. If there’s an issue bubbling in your area that poses a challenge to the way you and your colleagues farm, talk about it. Only by presenting your side of the story can you hope to balance the public debate or even better, influence opinion and behavior. Think critically, and encourage critical thinking in all those you speak to.
- People need to know that you care before they care what you know: Lead with caring, shared values, common ground before you bombard them with technical talk. When it comes to livestock, we care – 365 days a year, we care. We choose to work with animals because we like it. Talking about environmental issues, don’t forget the basics. We want to leave the land, the water, the air in great shape for our kids. They live here, too. And food – well – we eat the same food you do. So of course we care about food safety and quality. And remember, economics will never win an emotional or ethical argument.
- Clean up your language: Words are powerful tools. Use them carefully. Avoid words that elicit fear or anxiety. Instead of pesticide, talk about crop protection products. And explain what that means with an example. “We use crop protection products to keep the almonds you eat free of diseases and insects.” Remember, we want to humanize farmers not animals. So don’t call them babies. Speak urban. Most people you meet will have little to no knowledge of agriculture. Avoid industry jargon and talk their language, not in technical agricultural terms. That might means substituting words such as birthing instead of farrowing.
What works for you when you share stories of farming and ranching with an urban audience?