Have you ever thought of yourself as a consumer?
Imagine going to the grocery store and seeing shelves and shelves of a wide variety of food—processed and fresh, perishable and non-perishable, gluten-free, non-GMO, etc. The list goes on and on. Imagine that the last person in your family who owned or worked on a farm was your great grandparents in the 1960s.
With only 2% of the U.S. population involved in agriculture, the majority of consumers do not understand the complexity and science behind today’s food production and food processing industries. The first step to having key conversations with our consumers is to understand their personal history and put ourselves in their shoes. Agriculture knowledge that seems like common sense to us may be very new and foreign information to them.
The internet is a powerful tool that can be used for both good and bad motivations. In January, I had the opportunity to listen to Cami Ryan from Bayer speak about the differences between misinformation and disinformation at this year’s AFBF Annual Convention. Misinformation is referred to as incomplete or inaccurate information. Disinformation is a product of a carefully planned and technically sophisticated deceit process. Think of social media accounts that spread outrageous information and false claims about food. The Food Babe comes to my mind as being one of the most well-known distributors of food disinformation. As people based in agriculture, we can easily debunk all these falsities in our minds. Think of our consumers though—they have no context as to why this information is true or false. Johnna Miller from AFBF said that it takes five positive interactions on social media to erase just one negative interaction about food! We are truly fighting an uphill battle.
We can’t feel defeated though. What can we do as Farm Bureau members to help our consumers understand their food? When having critical food conversations with family members, friends in your community or someone online, the two most important steps to take are recognizing and accepting our biases and checking our emotions. Understanding our preconceived biases and not reacting emotionally are the most challenging parts of engaging in productive conversations with someone about agriculture. We all have different perspectives due to our individual life experiences—even within the agricultural community.
Finding common ground is the next step in having tough conversations about food and agriculture. Always ask the person you are conversing with to restate their questions and try to understand why they have a specific opinion about a topic. Be genuinely curious and open to what it is they’re asking. Only interject a fact if appropriate and timely. They may just want to know that your cows can live a wonderful and comfortable life in the free-stall barn.
Always respond respectfully and know that you don’t have to ‘win’ every conversation. Have an open mind—they may have a concern that you have never pondered. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m not sure about that and I will get back to you when I learn more about that subject.” Always use personal stories when possible. As farmers and agriculturists, we understand that air, water and soil are limited and very valuable resources. This is an excellent place to find common ground with many people. Best of luck to you in having these critical conversations with others. It is important work for our livelihood.
Here are some great social media accounts I recommend for you to follow: @foodsciencebabe, @iowadairyfarmer, @andydoeshealthy and @shayfarmkid. These professionals offer simple and level-headed responses to many of today’s food and agriculture misconceptions.
Lynn Leahy is the District 5 representative on the WFBF Promotion and Education Committee. She is a research agronomist at Heartland Farms, Inc., a 9,000-acre farm growing potatoes for potato chips. Lynn and her husband, Mike, reside in Plover.
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.