It has been more than two years since I first started to use social media to share information about how my farm operates and my views about agriculture as a whole. Along the way I learned a few things about how to better communicate with others who are not as connected to the farm as I am. Let me say up front, the biggest thing is LISTENING. I am still learning better ways to improve my communication skills, and I admit that at times I forget several of the things I picked up along the way.
Most farmers and ranchers have lived their entire life growing and raising food, so it’s easy to forget that 98% of the United States population is no longer connected to food production this way. From living in rural communities, we know we have adapted to grow the types of food best suited for that area’s soils and climate. We can appreciate that there are a million different ways that food is raised and understand it’s important that each method receives equal respect as consumers have the right to choose what method best supports their needs.
One of the big mistakes I catch myself making is telling my story without thinking about who may be listening and where they are. I back up today’s farming methods with facts and science that others either don’t understand or care about, as it doesn’t always make sense to them. I know this can really hurt my ability to connect with people who may not be able to relate to numbers, but – thinking a little differently – who do you know that doesn’t like a good story or a great photo? Facts are very important, but if we cannot back them up with personal experiences or emotional reasons they often become useless in conversations with our peers.
When we forget to include everyone that may be listening to a conversation, we can appear to be preaching to them instead of engaging and truly listening to any questions or concerns that they may have or any perspective they may have that helps us understand a different viewpoint. We must respect everyone’s opinions and make a true effort to have real conversations that allow them to form their own opinion about different methods in the way food is produced.
So I would like to issue a challenge to everyone involved in agriculture:
- Over the next month, seek out and engage with 5 individuals that have a different view on the world than you do (whether it’s ag, food or something else) and don’t try to change the way they think. Listen to what individuals have to say and try to learn at least one thing from them.
- When talking about agriculture, only talk about things that you can personally relate to. If you need Google or another reference to answer questions, then don’t answer them. Simply refer them to a person that can answer the question from their past experiences in agriculture.
- If you are not a farmer, please find 5 farmers that you can share your concerns with. Hopefully they are willing to listen and answer your questions truthfully.
If we all take a little time to listen, only comment on what we know and share our concerns in a genuine manner, maybe we can all play our part in improving the food system and our relationships within it – something we all have a stake in.
Mike is a fifth generation grain and cattle farmer in northern Ohio. He believes not only in raising healthy crops and animals, but also in working to ensure future generations will be able to continue to do the same. This not only means that Mike must continuously work to ensure that his farm is operating in a sustainable way, but he also helps others understand what farmers are doing on a daily basis to ensure that they are acting in a socially acceptable manner. You can find Mike on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and his farm blog.