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.

Last week I posted a note to HSUS to demonstrate how the outcry against Yellow Tail was truly grassroots. This week I wanted to highlight a few of the folks at the grassroots level that we need to celebrate. My hope is that these stories will be shared as much as the HSUS piece was; we need to celebrate what’s right about agriculture – and not just respond to the detractors. In other words, play offense not defense! (more…)

Sing a little song about your daily work, even when it smells . Make your message fun. Upload to YouTube from your smart phone. Share it with the world.  A family dairy farmer down in Alabama has developed quite a following for his work and his cows doing just that.  Will Gilmer, also known as “The Singing Dairyman”, creates “Moo Tube Minutes” to educate people how their milk is produced and give a voice to dairy farmers. (more…)

People often ask me where my passion for agriculture originates. After seeing me gladly stand up against pundits pointing fingers at farmers, many likely think it’s the anti-ag groups that fuel my fire. While it’s true that each piece of misinformation fans the flame, it’s really the people behind the food plate that give me the greatest inspiration. (more…)

MPK Note ~ Darin Grimm, a family farmer in northeast Kansas, grows corn, soybeans, wheat, sunflowers on 2000 acres with 1100 head of beef cattle.  Darin loves technology, particularly data related to improving the decision-making ability for agriculturists, having been involved with precision ag tools for a number of years. In the last year, his interest in technology has attracted him to analytics of social media.  He wrote this guest post in response to a question posted on #AgChat, a weekly streaming moderated conversation on Twitter.  I applaud him for taking the initiative! (more…)

In the past 8 years of speaking, I have stood on a ‘bully pulpit’ and likely asked more than 100,000 people to stand up and speak out for agriculture. In order for this to happen, I encouraged farm folks to overcome their natural modesty. After all, it’s impossible to put a face on the plate if there aren’t any faces willing to step forward or voices to go with them. (more…)

Ever had a cow lick your video camera? Wonder why a farmer tweets? Want to know how the agricultural community is REALLY using tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs?  Take a look at any of these quick videos on the Cause Matters Corp. Facebook Fan page – I can’t say it any better than these farmers and agribusiness folks do. (more…)