Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve had a burr under my saddle, in regards to agvocacy. I’ve been probably a little grouchier than warranted. Part of that is because I feel like our efforts to engage in agricultural dialogue, has plateaued. Part of it is because many people in the agriculture community operate on the same stubborn, free-spirited, willful mentality that has helped farmers and ranchers survive this long. Tenacity is an asset in some ways, a shortcoming in the other. I’m going to reach a level of candidness in this post that I generally reserve for good friends. I’m going to address the problems I see in the community’s approach to agvocacy, and I fully expect to receive some sort of challenge. I want this conversation to happen. It needs to happen.
- We need to stop being so conceited. Growers have gotten into the mindset that they are entitled to respect, simply because they produce goods. I know for a fact that farmers and ranchers are some of the hardest working people on this Earth, and that most things are impossible without them. However, no one likes to be strong-armed into appreciating something. Instead of saying, “You should respect me because I grow ______,” enter into a conversation as equals. The example I use to support this case is, “Your dry-cleaner cleans your clothes. Does that mean you automatically have a deep and abiding respect fo them?” Same with the people who cook your food at a restaurant, fill your cup with drink at a bar, or help you balance your finances at the accountant’s office. We need to stop operating on a sense of entitlement.
- We need to remember that producers are also consumers. We all have to make a trip to the grocery store at some point in time…unless, that is, you’ve figured out a way to grow toilet paper and toothpaste on tree or as a row crop. It’s time to start acknowledging that we need other sects of society just as much as they need us.
- We need to stop being so gosh-dang argumentative. I’m not going to go into detail about the demographics we need to target or the strategy for doing that. You need to find what works best for you. However, there is a constant issue where agriculture tends to be a little too zealous in their desire to refute others, to the point of it being a turn-off to people in the middle of the road.
- We need to start promoting agriculture as an entire industry, not just the products we want to sell. Corn farmers want you to use ethanol because it raises the price at which they can sell corn. Beef farmers and ranchers want you to eat beef. It’s an incredibly harmful status quo. This is just an example, but rather than a beef producer saying, “You should eat beef!” it is more beneficial for agriculture for them to open a dialogue about how meat plays a worthwhile role in a healthy nutritional balance. We need to support each other more. If we keep on this track, I worry that segmentation between producers will increase. It will be harder for people of different agricultural sects to work alongside each other for the greater good of agriculture.
- We need to diversify our content. If all you do is blog/write/tweet about agriculture 24/7, you eventually lose a sense of connection with the audience (unless they, too, are agriculturalists). In order to connect with consumers (remember, though, we are ALL consumers), we need to find common ground. We need to write about things that non-agriculturalists would identify with. We have massive potential in regards to building bridges, but we are so wrapped up in the one thing we are most passionate about, that we don’t necessarily know how to talk about much else. A perfect example of how to do this right is The Pioneer Woman. Ree Drummond mixes agriculture in with a very diverse blend of content. People come to read about cooking, child-rearing, home-schooling, photography, movie quotes, and dogs…and end up learning about Oklahoma cattle ranching. Another great example of this is my good friend, Janice Person. She is passionate about agriculture, especially cotton…but she also blogs about travel, current events, and culture. We could all take a page from Janice’s book.
- We need to admit our own shortcomings. We need to learn to say “I don’t know” when someone asks us a question we can’t answer. We need to be able to step back, look at our approach, and reassess the quality of work we are doing. Agvocates have a long battle ahead of them, and because of that, we need to make conscious efforts to do the best we possibly can. We, as a community, have a ton of talent and do a lot of things RIGHT. However, I think we all, collectively, need to be better about focusing on continuing education. Just because we learn how to blog and tweet, doesn’t mean it’s time to stop learning. In fact, that means it’s time to continue learning how to do it all better and more effectively.
Alright, I’m done on my soapbox. I can’t claim that I’m innocent of any of these things. In fact, I know I’m just as guilty as the rest of the community. And this post is not meant to be an insult to anyone; it is an honest telling of some of the roadblocks that I see for the efforts I care about. We are our own worst enemy. It’s valuable for any movement to be approachable, personable, adaptive, resourceful, and proactive. If we want to see long-term results for the work we do now, we need to continue to see our own flaws and act on them.
So, tell me: does this post offend you? Why? Do you agree with me? What could be added? What else should we consider as we work to move forward in agvocacy? Please, I beg you, share with me. This is a post written out of pent frustration, but I sincerely hope that we can open up some dialogue regarding our cause and our approaches.
Kelly M. Rivard is a college student majoring in Interactive Communications. Her family raised beef cattle and alfalfa in Illinois until she was 12 and she worked on a grain farm throughout high school and college. She has interned with the AgChat Foundation and has served on the communications committee. Currently, she works with AdFarm in Sacrmento, CA, where she dedicates herself to sharing the stories of farmers and ranchers. She can be found on Twitter at @kmrivard and she blogs at http://kellymrivard.com.