The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Promotion and Education Committee is excited to use the Rural Route to help members enhance their relationships with consumers and provide tools to navigate local markets.
Within each issue, the committee will identify a common agriculture question, supply tips on relaying a positive message and include ways Farm Bureau members can lay the groundwork going forward as being a trusted resource for agriculture and farming information.
To start, I’m sharing my experience. One of my life passions has been bringing awareness to farming and encouraging other farmers to tell their stories. Telling our stories can be as simple or as complex as we want it to be, or in most cases, it’s what our busy lifestyles allow time for.
Many times, these ‘sharing’ opportunities seem to end up in a social setting. Whether it’s involuntary like at an event or voluntary like on social media. Basically, anywhere we have human contact is a platform for storytelling. Our occupations are unique because our customer base is literally everyone, even other farmers.
One of my most recent encounters was at a social event. During introductions, I was asked to discuss the dairy industry’s housing choices for cattle as well as some of our common practices. This conversation became direct quickly, to the point of being challenging.
I explained my point of view the best I could; however, having come off a rough few days at the farm, my energy level had been depleted and I could feel my emotions getting the best of me. Therefore, I politely exited the conversation.
I later reflected on the conversation feeling disheartened at first that I didn’t use this storytelling opportunity to its fullest. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion I was being hard on myself but there was still a lesson to be learned.
The takeaway was recognizing when to decline having these types of conversations and remembering I have a choice.
Below is a list of the other things I’ve learned during my storytelling journey.
- As mentioned above, we can always decline a conversation. Take into consideration the environment, who we are talking to and the context of the conversation. Sometimes it’s actually the better option. A response could be, “That’s a great question and I would love to discuss it in more depth at a time when I could provide my full attention.”
- Strong emotions play a role. Feel them, know they’re there but bringing them into a conversation usually doesn’t result in a positive outcome. We want to give our stories the respect they deserve by delivering them thoughtfully with a clear head.
- It’s okay to respectfully disagree. In a conversation, common ground can’t always be found. When this situation occurs, our energy is best spent in other ways than trying to convince someone “they’re wrong and we’re right.”
- Treat others how you would like to be treated. If someone is genuinely asking about our industry, we want to share our information with them respectfully. We are professionals and what we consider basic knowledge may not be true for everyone.
- Comparing isn’t a benefit. Avoid comparing one product to another. The more productive route is to focus solely on your product and what you know best, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the other product.
- Don’t be the source of misinformation. Fear-mongering tactics or capitalizing on circulating misinformation doesn’t help in the long run. Taking time to completely understand your market and consumer’s understanding of farming will bring you more solid relationships and successes.
- It’s okay to not know the answers. Sometimes we are presented with questions we don’t know the answers to. An acceptable response is to say, “That’s a good question. I’m unsure of the answer.” Then use this as an opportunity to diverge into discussing your own farm and farming practices.
- Be mindful when posting to social media. Be sure the message of what you’re posting is clear, examine every post through the lens of someone with less farming experience and avoid interactions with negative posts. Don’t forget liking, sharing or commenting makes the post more visible to others.
- Give yourself a mental break. The amount of misinformation about farming on the internet and the feeling of needing to explain ourselves can be exhausting. Sometimes disconnecting is the best thing we can do for ourselves to recharge.
It’s important to remember the majority of consumers have a genuine curiosity to learn more about where their food comes from and who is producing it. These are the interactions worth putting time and energy into. If we don’t work to tell our story for ourselves, in the end, someone else will try to do it for us.
Brittney Muenster is the District 7 representative and Vice-Chair on the WFBF Promotion and Education Committee. She is a graduate of UW-Madison’s Farm & Industry Short Course and a fifth-generation farmer on her family’s 200-acre farm in Seymour.
The Promotion and Education Committee is a dynamic group of Farm Bureau leaders who develop, implement and promote programs that build agricultural awareness and provide leadership development to the agricultural community.