“Your Success Does Not Tarnish My Success”: Reflections from 2016 Cultivate & Connect

The post below has been re-published with permission from Darleen Sichely and GuernseyDairyMama.com.

This past year has been all about connections for me. Forging new ones, building on old friendships, I have really come to value the connections I have walked away with from the numerous events I was lucky enough to attend in 2016. Cultivate and Connect Conference was no different!

Cultivate and Connect ConferenceThe two day conference is the AgChat Foundation’s yearly national gathering. As one speaker put it, it’s the world series of agvocacy with all the biggest names in the room. It was the first time attending the national conference as my schedule has only allowed for two of the western regional meetings before. The caliber in the room definitely did not disappoint. It was so fun to meet so many people in real life that I had been following in social media for some time!

The opening keynote speaker Vance Crowe probably had my favorite message I took home from the Cultivate and Connect conference. Vance said “if you can grow up to be anything then you have to be something!” In this day and age of endless opportunity we need to capitalize on what makes each one of us a unique individual. While building your core tribe, the very heart of who you are, is important. Letting your curiosity lead you to the edges of your interests will open you up to whole new tribes of people. Connecting with them on shared values will in turn align your loyalties. Once you have this place of trust and commonality of your new tribe you can bring them back to connect with your agriculture tribe. Long story short as 2% of the population we as farmers have to be connecting with the consumers on their levels. The easiest way to do that is to connect on those levels that are not connected to agriculture. Don’t preach to the choir, build your non-Ag tribe!

That message really resonated throughout the whole conference for me and gave me the drive and motivation to really focus my attentions on my focus audience. Leah Beyer – Beyer Beware really hit home the idea of reaching out of to your non-Ag tribe by showing the topics that were closest to food in social media conversation. Guess what, agriculture and farmers are on the complete opposite side of the food conversation! That was eye opening to me, as fashion & beauty were the next closest to food, then wine & beer and parenting.  Missy Morgan from Common Ground really highlighted the parenting conversation importance for me with the reminder that Moms are making 86% of household food decisions. With my energy renewed I am ready to engage with my Mom tribe in impactful conversations. Those conversations really take place and make a real impact when there’s trust. Trust isn’t built on facts and figures but inclusive, positive, credible and real stories.

Another of my favorite general sessions was hearing Greg Peterson from Peterson Farm Bros. These awesome agvocates are best known for their fun music parody videos. Video is by far the most effective mode of engagement currently and it is awesome to see their success. But beyond sharing their success, Greg had a very important message he brought back from all his travels around the world, Diversity. Diversity is one of the stories of agriculture, (in fact one of my favorites) but it is also the story of consumers. There are so many choices in the American grocery stores and so many personal and cultural drivers to each individuals buying preferences. All the diversity in agriculture is something there is plenty of room for all to support. Conventional, organic, GMOs, no-till, intensive farming, that diversity is something to celebrate and support no matter where we stand. He really brought it home though that “all over the world the farm family is the same”. At the core of all the diversity and choices is the farmers feeding the world.  And we got to enjoy him perform “I’m Farming and I Grow It” in person! :-)

Shifting into that consumer gear we enjoyed a good food consumer panel with two dieticians, a chef and a food blogger. They shared great insights into how consumers preconceived notions really do piece together their thinking. I loved for the dieticians and the blogger that their biggest turn around came after visiting farms in person! Really sank in the importance of how it really does make a difference to take the time for people to see first hand your operation. Even better are those consumers who already have a following and can share their experience with their readers, amplifying your own story. Cara Harbstreet – Street Smart Nutrition gave us all a good laugh when our discussions turned to consumer choices and definitions of clean eating “My definition of clean eating is anything that doesn’t have dirt on it…..my clients have a different definition” Dieticians role in the young science of the nutritional world is really meeting clients where they are at. While they try to present the science behind tough subjects at the end of the day it is really emotional and personal choices that drive consumers buying decisions.

Our second panel was on issues in agvocacy with Leah Beyer – Beyer Beware, Krista Stauffer – The Farmer’s Wifee, Cristen Clark – Food and Swine and Chef Alli – Farm Fresh Kitchen. Leah hit the nail on the head with the statement “your success doesn’t tarnish my success”. A general theme of being proud of yourself, your story and not bringing negativity into your conversation or others really shined through the entire panel. There’s not room to be unsupportive of each other when we are such a small percentage of the conversation that is taking place!

Cultivate and Connect Conference

Lastly the breakout sessions were also top notch. I learned about Snapchat, video tips and advise for success, engaging with and building relationships with the media and apps and ideas to let your pictures really help tell your story. Erin Brenneman – Sow Momma who led the photography breakout that I attended left me with an important reminder of why I am agvocating in the first place. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” My Story, the History of our farm and all the Passion behind it really is the Why that I need to be sharing as an agvocate.

Overall I left Cultivate and Connect Conference refreshed and ready to dive back into agvocacy with a full cup. Sometimes it is so important to take the time for the thing we need for ourselves. Selfish has long been a bad word, but as I get older I see the value in it so much more. The conference even included some much needed fun and laughter that just deepened the connections. I really appreciate all the hard work the AgChat Foundation puts in to support those of us sharing our farm stories. Even if PDX weather kept me in Missouri for 36 extra hours, I really did have an amazing experience.

Cultivate and Connect Conference, I came home understanding what an appropriate name that was for the event!