Back in January (where DID the time go?!), I had the opportunity to meet up with a lovely group of ladies who blog. They all blog about different topics, but most of them are about food, healthy or frugal lifestyles, and life in general. I was most excited to finally be able to attend a group event, but the highlight for me was going to be that I had the opportunity to meet Dairy Carrie and learn more about how PennAg changed up the Today’s Agriculture display to teach the non-farm public about modern, conventional agriculture – raising food to satisfy the demands of today’s busy consumer.
Penn State Extension (my former employer) was there explaining genetically modified crops. I really liked that John indicated GM crops have been in existence for decades and have allowed farmers to use less pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and have decreased our carbon footprint. (I have been telling this to our farmers’ market customers, so it was reassuring to know I knew what I was talking about.) 🙂
Next we heard from the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Coming from Western PA, natural gas is absolutely not a new thing. My family has had gas wells on our farm near Punxsutawney long before I was born. We’re not making millions, but it was a useful resource. One thing that struck me, though, is that a “selling point” for Marcellus Shale was “it could save the farm.” Keep this in mind.
Next we stepped into the barn. We heard from farmers and industry representatives who spoke to us about veal, dairy, beef, hog, turkey, duck, and chicken production.
100%, A+, gold stars go out to the National Beef Ambassadors who highlighted the show, in my opinion, and actually taught the group about beef, what they eat, and feeding by-products like chocolate and potato chips or brewers grain to beef animals for feed. One blogger asked, “Does what they eat change the flavor of the meat when you feed byproducts?” Their response was super impressive as they explained that by-products are regional and overall it does not change the flavor of the beef because the acid in the stomach of the animal break down the feed into amino acids which are utilized, and the flavor isn’t “stored” in the beef, if you will.
The Shearer’s from Lancaster County also did a fabulous job speaking about hog production. They explained that momma pigs are not always “motherly” and will, in fact, lay down on and possibly crush their babies if they are not in a farrowing crate – a metal structure that allows the momma to stand up and lay down, but not lay down on her babies. No, they can’t walk around freely. That’s a breaking point for some consumers. But ya know what? That’s the great thing about living here in America – we vote every day how food is produced with our almighty dollar. If you want your pig to be able to walk around freely, you can go to a small family farm that will raise your meat that way. It’s great, really!
I am so thankful the other speakers volunteered their time to be there and answer questions. They did a great job speaking about how the animals were raised – if you had some background knowledge about agriculture. However, if you did not know how your food was raised, and everything you knew about how food was produced you assumed from watching movies or looking stuff up on the internet, or maybe not even that – these presenters missed a great opportunity. And that’s what the Today’s Ag display taught me about telling our farm story.
We need to take it down to the basic level, farmers and industry representatives! Our consumers can’t ask questions about genetically modified crops, or animal housing, or grazing, or grain fed vs. grass fed, or why the farm needs saved if you’re speaking in the language of the industry and not the language of the consumer. We need to understand our target audience. Why not start by asking, “have you ever visited a farm before?” or “what do you read on labels in the grocery store that you have questions about?” or even as basic as “what kind of milk do you buy in the grocery store?” We need to be able to ask questions to help our consumer understand why we produce our livestock/food the way we do, and we may not use another production method (because I get asked pretty frequently at the market why we don’t raise grass-fed beef. Well, first and foremost we’re a grain farm. . . and we feed the quality grain we produce!)
Back in junior high, when we were learning about the process of communication, we were taught that we need to observe our listener for verbal and non-verbal feedback. We were taught to be both a listener, and a speaker. It’s a two-way street. We need to do more listening! We need to do more thinking about the questions we’ve been asked! And we need to respond using vocabulary they understand! I’d bet we would be way more effective in delivering a message that helps our consumer and answers their questions if we listened, instead of thinking of our response while they’re still asking the quesiton, and end up leaving them with more questions.
So, I kept this in mind when I volunteered my time at the dairy display the following Thursday, and I listened, and I asked questions, and hopefully I answered some, too.
I could be wrong though. But I don’t think there is such a thing as over-sharing when it comes to telling interested consumers about agriculture. I just think we need to allow our consumers to lead the conversation. However, to do that, we need to make sure we’re giving enough information – and delivering that information in the right “language.” (I didn’t grow up on a dairy farm, and when dairy farmers start talking in “dairy-speak,” sometimes I get lost quickly! And I work in Ag!)
That’s what I learned at the Today’s Ag display this year – my 3rd year visiting the display. It gets better and better every year. Thank you, PennAg, or putting it together, and to the dozens of volunteers who make it happen. Together we can help connect more consumers back to the farm!