Agriculture needs anyone who has ever been touched by food production to become Agvocates. So basically if you eat you’re automatically included. Ag needs people to start talking and asking questions with an Open Mind, we also need those questions received and answered with an Open Mind. There is a great story behind how food reaches the plate that is not being told enough. Sure we have some in Agriculture starting to speak up and the people enjoying food asking questions however there needs to be one prerequisite to these conversations; an Open Mind.
You might ask; why keep repeating the need for an Open Mind? Too often I have seen the questions being asked of agriculture based on documentaries or books. The thing we need to remember is first and foremost the books and movies need to sell and to sell can stretch the truth and sensationalize it to the point it becomes a seller. Do not get me wrong there are great starting points for questions and conversations that come from these works. However the questions need thought of with an Open Mind because the answer may be different than what one wants to hear and contradict the book or movie.
On the other side of the coin farmers, ranchers and others in the food chain need to welcome the questions and answer them with Open Minds. Too often I see or hear things become polarized from the word go because we in Agriculture have grown weary of people and groups like Oprah, Michael Pollan and HSUS thought of as experts on farming and animal care. Oprah is a television host, and Pollan is a journalist and author who do raise good points however must also add the fluff so their products sell. HSUS is a nonprofit business that derives a major part of their income from donations and to get those donations needs to sensationalize their story and move people to send money. We in Agriculture need to have Open Minds when we answer questions formed from the works of those who can often stretch the truth. As agriculturists we should embrace the fact that those who buy the food that comes from our toils are interested in how and why we do what we do.
So why does Agriculture need YOU?
Because I firmly believe “Conversations are King!” It takes CONVERSATIONS to build RELATIONSHIPS that lead to TRUST (each belief can still differ). If farmers and ranchers along with those enjoying the end products of their toil can build relationships based on Conversations many questions will naturally be answered. Those in Agriculture and those buying the products that result from agriculture need to remember to not be preachy and seem better than the other. I have been guilty of preaching before and try to catch myself before doing it. If there is one thing I have learned you truly learn who is listening and who your audience is with engaging conversations not just preaching. I can’t remember how many times I have had conversations with people I have no Idea that are following me through various social platforms or by actively searching out a conversation to join.
Do I think only “farmers or ranchers” can tell “Ag’s” story?
NO, we need everyone to tell the great story of Agriculture.
Do I think only “farmers or ranchers” can tell “farmers or ranchers” individual stories?
YES, just like only someone like a Mom can tell a Mom’s story or only a Doctor can tell a Doctor’s story because they are individual stories.
Collectively the individual stories we tell will shape Agriculture’s story.
The work that is behind putting food on our plates makes a great story to tell and WE ALL need to remember WE need ALL the help WE can get to tell it.
We need you to tell your story because we all eat and are touched in some way by agriculture everyday.
Welcome to “TEAM AG”!
I just started reading the recently released book “The Now Revolution” by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund. One of the biggest things to hit me so far is the focus on how customers can use social interactions to get the sense of the “culture” of a business and gain insight into the values a company believes in. Baer and Naslund write “Your company culture consists of two key elements: Your business’ underlying intent and the people you bring together to carry it out.” In other words personal interactions and relationships built with people and faces of the company allow customers the opportunity to learn what the company believes in and it’s core values. Another great point made in the book is : “Having a great product or business to sell is important. But if you truly have something of value to offer, the how and why you go about doing that are every bit as critical as the what.” To further define culture Baer and Naslund explain it consists of 3 parts:
○ Philosophy on how people who interact with the business are treated
○ Actions taken to prove your “culture”
We in agriculture need to work on building relationships with our customers (those buying and using our products) and share our values on “how and why we do what we do” with them. In farming, we may not have a formal customer service department to interact with our loyal customers and as a result they have no understanding of some of today’s innovative farm practices. On the flip side with no clear way to communicate with consumers farmers lose touch of societal shifts in eating habits and changes consumers may be wanting. We are vital pieces of the food chain, however, the only personal interactions our customers have with people in the food chain are with the employees of the supermarkets or restaurants they frequent. Does the supermarket chain and its employees have the same values as farmers? Restaurants? I would hope so however I am not willing to risk my farming future on it. As farmers we need to be cognizant that the majority of our customers learn about farming from driving by our farms as they go about their daily routines and from their interactions at farmers markets. If our customers drive by an unkempt farm what impression are they left with? If the only personal relationship with someone in agriculture is those they meet at farmer’s markets what do they think of the rest of farmers? In agriculture we as farmers care greatly for the environment, animals and our communities, however are we conveying that message through relationships? For more on creating relationships please read Building Bridges, Connecting Communities.
“What are you doing to tell the story of agriculture?”
Do you have to tell your story of agriculture online with social platforms like blogs, Twitter and Facebook? No, however you need to tell your story where you are comfortable doing so. Places such as schools, churches, civic groups and supermarkets are great opportunities to interact with others and share your values with them.
Another great way to show that we as farmers care for our communities is to sponsor roadside cleanups or community events. As a group farmers are some of the best stewards of local communities, however do those who live outside the local area see what we do? To bring more awareness to what we as farmers care about we can sponsor events in bigger communities to help others understand the “culture” of agriculture. If there are major roadways near your farm sponsor the cleanup of a section of roadway so the many cars driving by see that farmers care.
In addition to community support and social platforms other great ways to agvocate are speaking to local service and hobby groups like Larkin Martin from Alabama does. Laurie Kyle from Wisconsin uses her background working in a school library and nutrition degree to discuss inaccuracies she sees in articles by writing letters to the editor and adding comments to online articles.
Together we can put the “culture” back in Agriculture and tell the wonderful story farmers and rancher’s have to tell!
For more reading on “culture” here is a blog post I came across after this was originally posted: “Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time”
How can I be a farmer? What does it take to be a farmer? I have heard these and other questions before so I decided to jot down how my on-farm experiences have grown me to be the farmer I am today.
When my dad started our dairy years ago, the day-to-day jobs on the farm almost all involved something with the cows. Now, decades later, my day-to-day role on my family’s dairy farm has evolved over the years from milking cows, to now where I spend more time meeting regulations than in the barn or in the field. That job is as important as it ever was caring for our cows and ensuring the safety and health of the milk we provide, but a lot more has to happen on the farm now too and my job has changed a lot over the years.
As a young child I started working on the farm by feeding hay to the cows. This was before we fed a Total Mixed Ration (TMR). Before and after elementary school my brother and I would go out and either feed hay off the trailer into the hay mangers or climb the haystack several stories tall and throw it down to the feed bunk. I remember my first concussion when I took a misstep and fell off the hay to the concrete below. My brother had a few accidents as well, I remember he pierced his eye rolling up the wire securing the hay bales and to this day has deteriorating vision in that eye and needs glasses.
When I was old enough and tall enough to properly operate the equipment in our milk barn I was promoted to those duties before and after school. I would milk before and after school while my father worked off the farm because the economics of the dairy industry at the time mean that he had to end up taking an off-farm job. The dedication to getting the job done was instilled in me at a young age. One day I even watched the smoke from our house burning while I had to finish milking. Taking responsibility, I even tried calling my absence in to the school and they would not believe me.
By the time I was 16, I had spent more hours driving farm equipment than can be calculated. I also got on the job training so I could be entrusted with treating cows for ailments. I could handle a calving as long as there were no complications and also administer an IV. We also transitioned to mixing more feed on site and that became my new duty as younger brothers took on the milking.
Between my sophomore and junior years in high school we moved the dairy 80 miles. Having my driver’s license I was sent ahead to be the one to get things running on the new facility. As my dad loaded cows on the old farm I was unloading them and making sure they were okay on the new dairy. It was my responsibility to be the last line of defense for problems and make sure everything went as close to the plan as possible. Nearly 12 hours later we had finished the move and were all exhausted.
Through the rest of high school and college my jobs were everything from milker to feeder and mechanic to irrigator. As time went by my skills increased and so did the responsibilities. I was diagnosing and treating cattle. If we called the Vet for a calving he knew not to waste time because I was able to handle everything short of surgery.
After leaving college I spent some time off the farm working for other dairies and businesses. I gained even more knowledge and upon returning to our dairy again worked directly with the cows. Over the course of several years, we built more facilities of our design and expanded the dairy to support more of our family. As our herd expanded so did the workload, to the point where it was time to better utilize my skills elsewhere in our business.
Even though I had been handling everything as it related to the cows, I was also the maintainer for the milking equipment thus relying less on outside companies. I also started taking on more of our regulatory compliance work. And as we added land to our farming operation over the years, and regulations grew in complexity, a lot more paperwork and record keeping have been required.
Today I am still in touch with the cows everyday by analyzing data and records I make decisions about how we can manage the cows health better. I fill in were extra help is needed however the majority of my time is spent riding a desk chair, staring at a laptop or stretching the capabilities of my smartphone. I also work with our herdsman to stay on top of any problems that might be arising that need to be corrected. Even though I am personally not doing ALL the work with our cows I am still heavily involved with their health, care and our productivity as a business. Through all this I also work closely with my father so he can make sure we are on the same page. I also handle all of our regulatory compliance with agencies such as the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, CA Department of Fish and Game just to name a few. There is also work to be done to remain in compliance with many health regulations and inspections as described by Brenda Souza Hastings in her Blog titled “The Milk Inspector is coming”. There are also financial and crop records to be maintained and evaluated. There are also a lot of off farm things to be done so I can help my children have the opportunity to farm if they so choose, a great friend of mine and the cowboy version of this dairyman explains it best here.
I may not be the picture of a “farmer” my dad imagined as he started our dairy, but in today’s world, I’m a fairly common model. Sure I still get a handful of hay for a cow now and then… I just also know a lot more about the balanced diet required by our animals and how best to deliver it. I have no idea what a farmer’s job will include for the next generation, but I’m hopeful I’ll see my kids rise to the occasion. They certainly seem to love where we are and what we do.
More and more you hear companies saying we must protect our brand. What is meant by this is to make sure you brand is not being mentioned negatively, whether in traditional or emerging forms of media.
For those of us in Agriculture our “Brand” gets pretty fuzzy: Are we animal agriculture, plant agriculture, forestry, soy, corn, dairy, beef or any of the various segments of Agriculture?
In my opinion we are first and foremost “Agriculture” and that is the true brand we need to spend the time sharing our story about. We are doing a disservice to ourselves by using an age-old tactic of war “divide and conquer.” As the California Farm Bureau Federation President, Paul Wenger, said in his address to the Annual Meeting delegation, in Monterey, last December, “If you cut one farmer, we all bleed.”
I feel it is our duty as farmers, who collectively are some of the most knowledgeable people on this planet, to band together, share our story and promote “Agriculture” our brand.
Some great examples of unity and positive “Agriculture” promotion are the Agchat Foundation, the Farm American project and the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. On a regional level I am personally a contributor to the Know a California Farmer effort and encourage others to do what they can to help promote “Agriculture”.
These projects are great examples of working together for all of agriculture, without showing favoritism and divisiveness.
Now, as “Agriculture,” we need to join together and support programs like these.