Have a Discussion, Not a Disagreement
Weather, pests, illness, fluctuating prices for fertilizer, seed, feed and every changing supply and demand markets – these are issues that farmers have been dealing with for generations. And each of these things by themselves can present significant challenges in any given year. But farmers today face new challenges as well, challenges that previous generations did not face, at least not in the same way.
The decreasing number of people who are directly involved in agriculture, combined with the advent of social media, and the explosion of different labels that can be found in the grocery stores as companies try to meet the consumers’ growing demand to know where their food comes from, what is in it, and how it is produced, has created a whole new division of issues. Many of those in agriculture have been hesitant to join in some of these debates or discussions for multiple reasons –
- they already have so much on their plates, keeping up with the day to day responsibilities on the farm is more than a full time job in and of itself;
- for some, having to explain what they do and why they do it is out of the norm, in generations past even if someone did not actively farm there was a good chance that they at least had some working knowledge of agriculture from family members or friends who were involved in the industry;
- it can feel like their ability to do their job is being questioned;
- and many other reasons.
However, agriculture has reached a point as an industry where we need to be able to engage and share about what we do and why, but it needs to be in a way that allows for conversation and sharing of ideas and thoughts, not arguments and accusations. As those involved in agriculture engage in discussions about their farms, their choices and their products, there are some things to keep in mind to help make it a positive event for everyone:
- Most people are asking because they truly care about where their food comes from, and they are trying to make sure that they are providing safe, healthy food for their families
- There is more than one right way to do something – conventional, organic, GMO, heritage breeds/varieties, grass-finished, grain-finished…all of these have advantages and disadvantages. As an industry, those involved in agriculture need to focus on discussing the positives of their chosen methods, without speaking negatively about others. There is a place for all types of agriculture, and if we show a united front as an industry, it helps us all.
- Look for the reason behind the question – it is easy to become offended if it feels like your choices are being questioned, but if you can find some common ground and relate to where the person asking the question is coming from, it is much easier to have a discussion.
As consumers, when you ask questions of farmers, try to set aside any bias.
- If you have a concern, ask, but be willing to truly listen to the answer.
- Realize that farmers are people as well with families, and just like you, they want to do what is best for their families and their farms.
- Know that you are free to choose what works best for you, but that doesn’t mean that a farmer who does something a different way is wrong, or should change the way they farm.
Being able to engage in a conversation, not an argument, can help to move discussions about food towards understanding and appreciating that all types of agriculture, and all different products, have an important role to play in providing safe, affordable, healthy food for everyone now and into the future.
To learn more about how to effectively tell your story, and how to have discussions around why you do what you do and about the products you produce, request access to our "Basics of Agricultural Advocacy" education portal.