Have you ever listened to the conversations around you in the produce, meat or dairy sections at your grocery store? I know, that sounds like a total creeper thing to do, but you’d be surprised the food conversations and misinformation that is being spread around you while you’re just darting in to grab some green onions.
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you often my food eavesdropping makes my blood pressure rise and I have to resist the urge to yell things like “for the love of some-guy-named-Pete, your tomato DOES NOT have fish genetics in it!” For what? Where will my emotion filled outburst land me (other than a personal elbow escort out of Kroger by their security)? Likely, no where productive. Nobody has time for unproductive conversations or chats with security. So, instead I use my grocery store time to observe. Listen and observe. Straight up agriculture advocating National Geographic style.
Recently, in my grocery store adventures, I came face-to-face with the food-know-it-all species. You know the kind I’m talking about. They are well researched — in all things — food documentaries, food fear and labels (so. many. labels.) AND they want to tell any, and every, one that’ll lend them an ear about it. And so I bring you, to that one day in Kroger, in the checkout line, with two members of the food-know-it-all kingdom, holding up progress by explaining to the (I’m only listening to you because I can’t leave) cashier and bagger why they purchase certain foods, why they only buy certain brands of yogurt (Because the others have, chemiKILLZ, duh) and why they were super healthy beings because of such shenanigans. When they had finished ‘educating’ the cashier and bagger as much felt needed, the male of the know-it-all duo turned to me and my cart.
*leaning over my cart in order to get a better view of it’s contents*
“Wow, a lot of vegetables, such a variety, too… This is impressive, looks yummy, you must cook a lot.”
“I try to.”
“That’s so awesome, we do as well, so much better for you than eating out and you know what’s in your food. I eat a lot of ***** Brand yogurt, it’s my favorite. Have you tried it?”
The conversation ended because the cashier had FINALLY finished with them, so the only thing I added to the conversation was a “have a good day” but judging by the know-it-all species reaction towards me, I had been accepted as one of their own. Clearly, my healthy grocery store purchases and my decision to wear oversized flannels and leggings as pants meant I knew what was up in the world of righteous food choices.
But, would this couple have felt the same way about me if they had know my husband and I raise conventional cattle, or that my in-laws have broiler houses? (They expressed to the cashier they were anti-meat.)
You may be wondering how this relates to the topic at hand. It does, hang with me. While I don’t know what the outcome would’ve been with the know-it-all couple, I would’ve sat down and had a conversation about agriculture. I do think my part of the conversation would’ve carried more weight with them, as opposed to just reading the same information on the internet. Why? Because they connected with me. They judged me by my grocery purchases and they respected them.
THIS. This is what consumers want.
They want a connection with their food and the people that grow it. They want to respect the work that went into it, they want to know that you care what you’re putting into your body as well.
I think we get so caught up in needing to do damage control over bad ag publicly, that we forget to just be humans. Consumers are starving for information, while they may have no desire to ever farm themselves, they no longer want to be separated from the farm in terms of general knowledge.
So the million dollar question, how do we give them that knowledge without coming across as faceless Big Ag collecting our Monsanto Shill bucks? And what in the world do they even want to hear? I may not have the answer, but I have a few suggestions.
Listen. They want you to L-I-S-T-E-N.
I think that’s hard when we want to completely change how someone feels about agriculture in a matter of minutes, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Consumers want to be heard, they want to know that their concerns and opinions aren’t falling on deaf ears. Listen. Absorb what they are telling you, and then respond. Respectfully.
Speaking of respectfully… (I feel like listen and respect tie in together.)
Did you ever hear from you parents, “You have to respect me in order to earn my respect.” That doesn’t change once you become legal age, and that most certainly applies to speaking to consumers. Consumers want to hear that you appreciate them for buying your product, or even that farmer down the road who only fertilizes his fields with unicorn manure.
They want ‘glass walls.’
If you know me personally, I beat the subject of ‘glass walls’ into the ground, BUT, in my opinion, it’s what consumers want. They want to hear, “hey, I’m so totally okay with what happens on my farm, come over anytime and I’ll show you.”
They want the word “family.”
“Industrial” and “Factory” have become common industry lingo cuss words for both producers and consumers. Even though as producers we know 98% of farms are family owned and operated, consumers have been told otherwise. The word “family” needs to be reinstated as much as possible in conversations. Not only that you’re a family farm, but here is how my family relates to yours.
They want miscellaneous knowledge, not to be preached at.
In ag, we definitely jump on the ‘Food Babe is wrong and here is why,’ ‘Chipotle sells fear, not burritos,” etc. We write theses posts, other people in ag share them, and then we all pat each other on the back for how great of a job we’re doing, but have we actually reached our target audience — the consumer? They already get hit with enough food fear, and sure, I think there is an occasional time and place for those type of damage control posts, but I believe the ones they eat up are the lifetime tidbits of knowledge.
Like, “Hey, did you know seedless watermelons have a male and female plant, and that bees pollinate between the two in order to produce the melons.” General reaction: MIND BLOWN.
I think the main theme of all these points is just be YOU. Not everyone is going to connect to the beat of your drum, but some will.
Famers, ranchers, ag professionals are humans just like consumers — we eat what we grow, we are proud of our lifestyle and some of us even wear leggings as pants — and I firmly believe that is the main thing the general public wants to know.
Danielle Beard Hayden is an Okie recently transplanted into rural northwestern Kentucky where she resides, with her husband, on their farm. Professionally, Danielle is the communications director of the Kentucky Corn Growers Association and owner of Two Arrows Photography.