Hope you'll visit the new Cause Matters Corp. site!

Dear Reader,

Thanks for visiting, but please come on over to http://causematters.com.  My “Gate to Plate” blog was incorporated into a new website in July 2010. It has all the resources you see here, plus a whole lot of connections for farm, food and social media.  As you visit the new location for this blog, I hope you’ll update your bookmark and even share the new site with your friend.  See you there – this is the final posting at this site!

Connecting Gate to Plate,

Michele Payn-Knoper, CSP

Cause Matters Corp.


P.S. Have you connected to the other side of the food plate today?  Whether you’re a foodie or farmer, consider the perspective of the person across from you.

Share your "agvocacy scoop" at new site!

I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream…

Ahhh, ice cream.  A rite of summer. Whether a simple cone, a sundae or huge banana split – ice cream is the indulgence of choice for our family. We’ve been known to plan summer trips around where we can sample ice cream.  And ice cream is one of those foods that is even better when eaten with friends…

The same can be said for getting information out there about food, whether you’re on the farm or consumer side of the plate – or somewhere in between.  So, in celebration of National Ice Cream month and a new website that pulls in this blog, I’m asking readers to share your favorite scoop of advocacy with each other.

Read more and please point your bookmark to http://causematters.com for the blog and other resources on ag advocacy, social media & connecting food with farms. Click on blog and add your comment…

The joy of  summer holidays in small towns, complete with parades, community dinners and neighborly visits.  It wouldn’t seem like summer if these weren’t a part of our family/s memories – and a lively part of rural America.  I spend a lot of time writing about travels around the world, North American agricultural issues and  global food needs, so I thought it was time to tip my hat to our hometown.

Thirteen years ago, my husband and I moved to Boone County, Indiana on July 3 – and little did we know that we had arrived in the midst of THE biggest celebration of the year. We’ve since learned that Fourth of July celebrated over a couple of weeks here, complete with sports tournaments, Symphony at Sunset, a huge parade, queens of all ages, concerts & socials in the park – and of course, multiple fireworks shows. Apologies to my international readers, but I hope you can relate as you consider the best parts of your own nation’s festivities. I hope these celebrations will continue for generations, because of the color they weave in the fabric of rural areas.

  • Relaxing with friends;  Rarely do we take the time to enjoy quality conversations in a way we do over the social gatherings of the Fourth of July. No travel to exotic locations, no computers and no hotels – just families taking the time to visit in a festive setting.
  • Making memories; whether it’s watching fireworks with children on our laps, splashing water across the lawn or eating obscene amount of foods – these are the times I hope to remember on my deathbed.
  • Watching young people in the community grow up. It seems like only minutes go by; a little boy happily riding in a train turns into a young man who’s suddenly taller than mom, or blink and find a freckle-faced little girl in braces and pigtails is suddenly riding 4-H Queen Car.
  • Having people know your name. There’s great value in families looking out for each other community-wide. Trading in my heels of speaking for boots of solitude on a farm is a favorite when I’ve been traveling. However, I cherish the friendly waves when we go to town, how people look out for each other, and that people are connected enough to our family to be concerned for our well-being.
  • Reflecting on the privilege of being an American. Regardless of your country, I hope you find the same pride as you listen to patriotic music and see the flag of your homeland. It seems many have lost perspective on our history, independence and what it means to be an American.
  • Food. O.K., you didn’t really think I could write a blog without at least mentioning it, did you?  Ice cream, homemade pies, summer salads served from the garden, ribs, sweet corn, strawberries and more. It is truly a feast from the farms!

Feel free to chime in with your favorite small town celebrations. I doubt many other of our fellow parade watchers reflect on the progress of agriculture while watching a GPS equipped ultra-modern tractor maneuver the parade route 10 minutes after the antique tractors go by, followed by horse and carriage. I do – and while I love technology and the many advances of modern-day agriculture, I hope we never lose sight of the value of traditions in rural areas – like those of the last weekend. I also hope farms don’t become relics to only be showcased in a parade. How are you helping be sure that doesn’t happen?

Nine states. More than 50 hours of training farmers and ag organizations on social media. 2 tornado warnings during 15+ hours of driving, topped by 5 severe thunderstorms. Gratitude for the way others in ag welcomed new folks. 15+ flights; 1 diverted, many delayed and two cancelled. Tired vocal cords. And outstanding conversations with close to 200 farmers.  That was my June.

We had great discussions about the necessity of farmers speaking out in a more proactive way. Most people I’ve worked with in the last month agreed agriculture has developed a tendency to be defensive. After all, if you’re backed into a corner, you’re likely to come out fighting, right?   Local food, biotechnology, organic, animal welfare, subsidies, carbon footprint, fuel, etc. are all hot issues that have seemingly put our backs up against a wall.

Rather than looking at this as being put in the corner and constantly defending ourselves, I believe the interest in food and fuel offers an incredible opportunity for agriculture to be a part of the conversation.

1. Listen: How will you connect with a person if you don’t take the time to listen? Groups on Linkedin or Twitter conversations are a great place to listen to folks, even if you don’t agree with them. Listen louder and you’ll get a clear look at societal interests and trends far removed from your driveway. It’s about broadening your horizons, understanding another viewpoint and learning about others. This does not mean you have to agree!

2. Engage: Unlike some folks I met in Missouri that enjoyed collecting friends on Facebook (but not talking to them), you actually have to engage in a real conversation with people – whether you are in person or online.  Look up the definition of conversation: an oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.  As you engage with people, you widen the stream of communications, bringing in others and deepening the “trust well.” It’s about connecting on an emotional level.

3. Educate: After you listen and engage, you earn the right to educate. I had a person in Iowa tell me this week that he didn’t want to waste his time on the first two – he just wanted to be able to tell people the facts. That may work in his playbook, but it doesn’t in the majority of communities.  There’s a reason that 460 million people are on Facebook; humans enjoy interfacing with humans. A glimpse into life on the farm with a photo from your phone, perspective from a farm family or a tidbit on how food gets to the grocery store can provide that very human connection. Telling people what you want them to know doesn’t connect at the same level if you don’t have a relationship.

Sometimes we need to realize a question is just a question.  The question doesn’t mean that a consumer is dumb, your neighbor is against your farm, or a mom is questioning how you raise food. The question means the person is opening the doorway for a conversation. Will you slam that door shut by being defensive? Or, will you take the time to listen and engage?

We’ll never be able to earn the right to educate if we only defend. Take the time today to listen and engage – then you’ll be able to educate far more effectively to help people know how deeply you care.

Advanced social media training for farmers. Apply now at http://agchat.org!

Are you adept at adapting? Are your reacting or reaching out? Are you living in 2010 or 1990?  Being adept at reaching out in 2010 looks very different than it did in 1990 (the pre-internet era) . As is the case in any revolution, this means exciting opportunities exist. I believe the 460 million people on Facebook and 50 million tweets per day translate to agriculture’s chance to engage.

Many people reference their birthdate when opportunities around social media are brought up. Let me share a bit of a reality check; thought leadership doesn’t come with a birthyear – nor does the proper mindset to leverage tools that just make sense for farms and ranches.

If you are a person who’s adept at adapting and have reached out to build a community to be an “agvocate”, it may be time to move your skillsets to the next level. Perhaps you have a Facebook, but you’re not sure how to fully use it to share your farm story. Or, you’re on Twitter and have found it interesting, but don’t really “get it.”  There’s been a conference designed just for farmers and ranchers who are ready to move up the technology mindset ladder. The AgChat Foundation just announced an”Agvocacy 2.0 Training Conference in Chicago on August 30-31. The program includes agriculture’s best and brightest in social media, with the training set in a variety of learning formats for 50 selected people. Core areas of interest include:

  • Bridging basic communications with social media
  • Community Building for Twitter and Facebook
  • Extending your community beyond ag
  • Creating effective content for YouTube and blogs

It’s been exciting to watch the program develop; I’m firmly convinced that participants in this inaugural Agvocacy 2.0 Training Conference will walk away with incredible ideas when the noon to noon agenda is complete. Successful social media is about engaging human to human interaction; this conference is an exciting chance to bring top agvocates together to “ideate” around best practices in Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Linkedin and YouTube. It’s about moving your mindset up another level on the agvocacy ladder.  Workshops, roundtables and panel discussions include:

  • Growing your communications skills & understanding of consumer research.
  • Building Message House Diagram: Learn to logically build messages and supporting talking points.
  • Twitter Community Building: Find tools, hashtags, strategy to maximize impact of ag voice on Twitter.
  • Facebook Profiles/Fan Pages/Groups: Maximize farmer understanding of Facebook as a tool to put a face on the plate.
  • Extending beyond ag: Find personal interests, data, lists & best practices to reach beyond traditional ag circles.
  • Burning questions: Personalize your learning by getting the info you need in one-on-one Q&A.
  • Creating Impactful Video: Grow in-depth understanding of tools to create, upload and share videos to agvocate.
  • Building an Effective Blog: Help farmers understand how build, share and monitor an effective blog while finding personal style.
  • Real World Show & Tell: Learn from case studies of SM use to take farm to others.
  • Road map for your action plan to agvocate.

If you’re ready to embrace change and be a part of the conversation for agriculture’s benefit, I’d encourage you to apply at http://agchat.org to tell the AgChat Foundation how you have the mindset to make agriculture matter. You have until July 1. There’s no time like the present!

An open letter to all those concerned and outraged by the Conklin Dairy Farm incident…

Please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Kathy Swift and I grew up on a dairy farm in northern Virginia.  My parents milked 100 Holstein and Jersey cows and I spent many years in 4-H traveling around to county, state and national shows exhibiting my dairy cattle.  I chose to have a career in agriculture and in 1997, I received my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.  I have been a cattle veterinarian in northern Florida and southern Georgia for the last 13 years.  I would like to take a moment to address the actions in the Conklin Dairy Farm video as a member of the veterinary community.

First of all, I would like to apologize on behalf of the dairy business.  I am terribly sorry that the video has caused many of you to reconsider consuming dairy and beef products.  I am sorry that you had to consider whether all animals were treated this way.  I am sorry that you had to wonder whether the dairy products in your refrigerator were produced by cattle that have been treated humanely and with great care and respect.  If anything good comes out of this incident, it is that the dairy business has made it clear that we will not tolerate such behavior .  It is morally reprehensible and we do not condone it in any way, shape or form.  Period.

There are many organizations claiming to be animal advocates and fighting for the rights and well being of farm animals.  They would have you believe that the agriculture industry has no concern for its animals or their welfare.  They would have you believe that we are not listening to consumers.  They would have you believe that we are not going to change.  I am here to share several facts with you:

The veterinary community continues to learn and educate farmers about proper animal care and animal welfare.    More and more research dollars are spent annually to learn how animals process and react to pain and, more specifically, what we can do improve.  For example, a study was recently done at Kansas State University using thermal imaging as a way to assess animals’ response to pain.  From that information, we can learn how to handle cattle more appropriately and treat them with suitable medications as situations deem necessary.

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners recently conducted a survey assessing veterinarians’ use of pain relieving medications in promoting animal welfare and proper animal care.  Currently, only one non steroidal anti inflammatory drug (NSAID) is approved for use in cattle.  More options are needed.  The information collected by this survey will prove valuable in continuing to work with the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical manufacturers to allow us more legal access to medicines.  This will allow farmers, ranchers and veterinarians to enhance animal welfare without risking the safety of the food supply.

Most recently, Kansas State University hosted a Beef Cattle Welfare symposium to scientists, veterinarians and ranchers to discuss current thoughts and needs within the farming community.  Quoting Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University, “(this year) we talked about issues. We talked about confidence in an industry. We know we do a dang good job of raising cattle and we do everything at a very high level. But we want to get better every day. We have more openness, more transparency. We are focusing on the future and outcome- based measures for change.”  Conference speaker, Temple Grandin, PhD, a pioneer in proper cattle handling and animal welfare, spoke about “How to Set Up and Implement an Auditing System”.  She has been instrumental in making positive impacts on how cattle are handled and processed for slaughter.

On a local level, I continue to educate my clients about what they can do improve animal welfare situations on their farms.  I show them how to use a local anesthetic when dehorning calves to prevent pain.  I continue to use a tranquilizer with pain killer activity whenever I am castrating calves.  I educate farmers and ranchers on the appropriate times to use pain relieving medications.  We discuss ways to handle and work with cattle to present them with the least amount of stress.  Animals that are well cared for are much healthier and cost the farm less overall in reduced health care costs and improved efficiency.

On a larger local level, I was asked and actively participated in helping to formulate an animal welfare audit for the regional dairy farm milk cooperative.  This audit consisted of a series of questions addressing animal housing, veterinary care, nutrition, milking machine and milking parlor maintenance, calf and heifer care, and personnel training and education.  By March 2010, all members of the milk cooperative had been audited by a veterinarian and achieved a passing score of 90 percent or above.  (Now I realize that you could be skeptical here and say that those passing scores are not valid, but I don’t know of any veterinarian willing to risk his or her license to pass a farm as humanely taking care of their animals if they are not.)  This form was not requested by any organization.  It was instead a step taken by the milk cooperative in response to public concern and questions about animal welfare.

The take away message from all this:  agriculture IS listening.

I could go on here, but I will instead encourage you to go straight to the source.  Who didn’t learn at a young age that messages get twisted and misconstrued simply going from one person to the next?  I don’t want you to only listen to me about animal welfare.  Meet the farmers in your community.  I persuade you not to just ask the easy questions, but ask the hard ones too.  The difficult questions are what get good open dialogue started.  You don’t need the filters of animal activist groups; go straight to the source.  Don’t have a farmer close to you?  Contact your state Farm Bureau.  They will be happy to put you in touch with a farmer that you have an interest in learning more about.

Anyone reading this letter is cordially invited to connect with me on twitter @cowartandmore.  I am happy to listen and answer questions.  If I can’t give you an answer, I will be happy to find you someone that can.


Kathy Swift, DVM

Note from MPK: Kathy Swift is a practicing large animal veterinarian who is also a mom and a gifted artist.  She blogs about two of her passions in life:  agriculture and art on her blog, cowartandmore.blogspot.com. I have great admiration for Kathy and would encourage you to connect with her. She’s a great example of agvocacy on and off the farm.

Dairy People Care!

A common theme of the animal rights movement is to promote that today’s farms are full of dirty dark secrets.  I grew up on a dairy farm, live on a farm and have had the privilege of being on hundreds of dairy farms around the world – including some around Plain City, Ohio. The crap you see on the heinous videos from animal rights activists, like the one being released by Mercy For Animals about a Ohio dairy farm, is not what’s happening on every farm. Based upon personal experience on the dairy side of agriculture, I’d like to offer a bit of a perspective check on the “dark secrets of farms.”

  • Calf Care: Dairy calves are given colostrum in their first couple of hours of life to be sure they’re healthy and because farmers want to give them the best care possible. Calves are not thrown around, nor are they mistreated – farm families often care for calves the same way they do for their children (and sometimes better). Calves are typically given their own home to thrive in and provided a formulated diet, along with a vaccination program comparable to your child’s. Some groups would lead you to believe that it’s cruel to take a baby calf from the mother, but this is done for the health of both the calf and the cow. If you’ve ever breast-fed, you don’t need a lot of explanation about what a 100 pound calf can do to mammary tissue.
  • Healthcare Handling: Cattle are typically put in “chutes” for treatments to keep both the animals and humans safe. This does NOT involve beating an animal, poking it with metal or prodding it cruelly. Nose rings are sometimes used to calm an animal who’s throwing its head around (similar to arm restraints for a human). For example, if I see a cow is going to hurt herself in a chute, I try to restrain her with the halter first to calm her down and then, if necessary, will use the nose ring (which does not puncture the nasal tissue).  It’s not  a torture device, it’s a safety device.  If a cow doesn’t like a needle, hoof trimmer, veterinarian examination or other necessary practices to keep her healthy, we still have an obligation to keep her as calm as possible. That’s not always pretty with 1500+ pounds, but people who have worked with animals their whole life have special techniques (mine is talking to the animal a lot, if you can imagine!).
  • Milking Parlor: The parlor is where cows come to do their business – give milk – and they are usually happy to do so. Today’s technology means milking equipment is streamlined to cow comfort and milking efficiency (which typically happens 2-3x daily). Cows are habit driven; once in a routine, will come to be milked in roughly the same groupings, but it can be a bit of a challenge to get a new one into the right habits. However, I’ve yet to meet a dairy farmer who uses a pitchfork to stick a cow in the parlor. If cows are beaten, they don’t release their milk, which kind of defeats the purpose of the parlor, don’t you think?
  • Drugs: Cows are NOT pumped full of drugs. ALL of the milk you buy from the grocery store is antibiotic free; it’s been tested about 9 times between the cow and you.  Any label that suggests that some milk has in it antibiotics is false (if it’s sold as Grade A).  And all milk has hormones – it always has. Udders are not pumped full of hormones nor are calves fed hormones. Hormones exist in living things. Check estrogen levels in soybeans and cabbage if you don’t believe me.
  • Nutrition: Did you have a dietitian plan out your last meal to meet your energy needs, adapt your meal plan to changing seasons, check your manure and then look at your body condition? Cows do. Professional nutritionists evaluate all the components of a cow’s diet, test the available ingredients and provide a complete “ration” (think casserole with all the best ingredients) to help dairy farmers keep their cows healthy. Most cattle eat better than I do!

Above all, please know these videos represent a few bad actors and are an insult to those of us who have worked with cattle since we were old enough to be in the barn. Are all babysitters or teachers bad because there are a few who abuse children?  No – and the same holds true for farmers. Regardless of whether the video was staged or real, the individuals who treated animals with such disrespect should have been reported to the authorities immediately. Agriculture has a responsibility to be very clear that such behavior is unacceptable.

Dairy farmers don’t milk cows because they plan to get rich; they do it out of love for the cows and the dairy business. It’s a tough job that requires 365 days of work – and the bottom has fallen out of the milk market in the last couple of years. They’re not asking for your sympathy – they just want you know that animal rights videos don’t represent how much their family cares. And, speaking as a dairy person, seeing such cruelty makes me want to cry and keeps me up at night. Thankfully, I can go out to our barn and down the road to where our cows are milked to see animals that are treated with respect. If you haven’t had the same opportunity , I’d encourage you to visit a modern day farm – and talk with the family working to care for the animals.

One week ago, my office went “back to Mac.” I’ve been known to get a little cranky when computers aren’t working, so this transition was anticipated with some stress.  Enough people have asked me on Twitter and Facebook about the PC to Apple switch that I thought it was worth a post. And, I speak a lot about moving mindsets up the technology ladder, so I didn’t want to be a hypocrite because my mind was definitely stretched in uncomfortable ways through this. However, I’m happy to report that we have a much more efficient office, streamlined system and greater understanding that technology really should be in the background when operating properly. (more…)

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a note penned for our young child…

Each night I’m home, I lay my hand on your sweet cheek and send up prayers of thanksgiving for you. It’s those little moments I miss most when I’m traveling, such as standing next to your bed and the resulting peace. (more…)

My week started on with giving a workshop on social media a women’s leadership program in North Carolina and ended with a keynote to encourage ladies to celebrate agriculture in central Kansas. Hanging out with other women rarely happens in my work as a professional agricultural speaker, so I enjoyed some girl time.  A common denominator was shoes (of course!); in North Carolina we joked about one woman with 40 shoes in her car and in Kansas, we switched shoes (literally). (more…)