Agriculture Advocacy is like a game of chess, it is much more than just blasting social media with a ton of pictures and videos. True advocacy really must include engaging with the other side, so what is the next move for Agriculture Advocates, is it time to shift gears?
In the military we study the opponent, we learn and understand the opponent’s behavior so we can anticipate what their next move may be or how they will react to a certain scenario. The military may have detailed knowledge of what kind of weapons the other side may have, or they may know the war strategies of another nation or even our allies. Part of the military’s job is knowing the logistics of what it will take to move the right troops to the right part of the globe in a moment’s notice.
Advocating for agriculture really isn’t all that different than the military planning a defensive or even an offensive strategy. To be prepared to defend the agriculture industry one should study and understand the non-agriculture culture. What kind of threats should you be prepared to face? Are you going to be armed with actual facts to counteract misinformation that may be thrown at you? Can you back up your answers with actual true evidence that supports what you say? Chances are if you have worked in the agriculture industry then yes your firsthand knowledge and true life experiences are going to make you well prepared to answer most questions from the non-farmer side.
So now that you are experienced and you are well prepared to answer questions from the non-farmer, what about trying to understand a little bit more about the non-farmer? Have you taken the time to sit down with a non-farmer and ask them why they live in the city, or ask them their thoughts on agriculture? If you can understand why a non-farmer thinks the way they do that might make it easier for you to explain your side of the agriculture story, it might help provide you with a better angle of attack so to speak.
I often hear people say “it is important for me to know where my food comes from.” That is a good time to ask them why it is important for them to know. The non-farmer may have a health condition that prevents them from eating certain foods, and it could be that the non-farmer simply overheard someone else say that, they may not even know why it is important for them to know where their food came from. By engaging with the consumer you may determine it’s just an old fashion case of the consumer has been misinformed about agriculture and after you educate them on what it is you do and how the food is safe and cared for you may just change that person’s opinion about agriculture, you may have just gained an ally. However to accomplish this it will take actual engaging and listening to the consumer to achieve this goal.
Part of advocacy is earning respect and trust from a consumer, but the consumer also wants to feel they too are respected, and they want to feel confident that you really do have their best interests in your intentions. Sometimes simply explaining to a consumer that you feed this same food to your family that you love and would not want to harm can help the consumer realize you the farmer may have some of the same concerns and they do.
Think of the relationship with the consumer as being in a marriage. At the end of the day when you come home to your spouse, your spouse may ask you how your day was and most spouses are more than willing to sit and listen about your day whether it was good or bad, but part of a marriage is returning the favor of asking your spouse about their day and as well as listening to them the same they did for you. The same holds true for the farmers and the consumers, if you expect them to listen and understand your story you should be willing to do the same.
While taking the Masters in Beef Advocacy training courses one of the things that stuck out the most to me was the part about engaging with consumers:
- Listen First
- Find Common ground
- Share information
- It’s okay to not have all the answers
Those 4 simple steps will go a long ways in helping you to understand the consumer so that you can help the consumer understand you.