When it comes to advocating for a cause you believe in there is a fine line where a person goes from being an advocate to becoming arrogant. One of the key components to promoting your industry is to educate people without shaming them. The minute your tone becomes condescending and you place yourself on an elevated pedestal you are no longer being an effective advocate for your cause, in fact you are creating more harm than good.
One of my long term goals in advocating for the agriculture industry is to work on closing the gap between the consumer and the agriculture industry. This challenge is much deeper than I realized it to be when I began this journey. One of the problems on the agriculture side is the perception that city people do not like farmers, and that city people are uneducated about where their food comes from. The perception on the consumer side of the “farmer” covers a wide range of topics, many of these topics stem from large amounts of bad information that is spread across social media platforms by people who do not understand the agriculture industry. While some of these perceptions are semi accurate there are many exceptions to the rule.
It’s been a long time practice for both sides to feel attacked by one another and the normalized response is to retaliate back with a message of why the other side is wrong or why your side is better than the other side. These types of attacks and retaliations do not do any good, they only further divide the two sides and in the long run further spread more misinformation and bad perceptions about each other.
One of the latest examples that comes to mind was I saw an advertisement for a “Farm Mom” shirt, the words on the shirt basically described what every mom is regardless of what industry they are in, and it’s great to recognize a farm mom because they are truly some hard working people, but all in all lets face it, most moms work very hard for their family whether they go to a job in the city, work from home, or they are a farm mom. The shirt creates a perception that not all moms are as great as a farm mom, which is fine if that is how you feel, but how is that message perceived by a non-farm mom? If I was a non-farm mom I would feel a bit turned off by that message and it certainly would not drive me to seek more information from you as an agriculture advocate because you do not see me as an equal, your message seems to say “I am superior to you and here is why”.
So how do we fix this? One of the ways to fix this is for both sides to think about their message before they send it. Is your message creating an opportunity to open the lines of communication and provide useful information, or is your message more of a condescending tone that tells me you feel superior to me and you are out to prove you are more superior? The most effective way to advocate for your cause is to open a two way communication with your target audience. One of the worst things to do is take someone’s opinion from social media and apply that as a blanket statement that all farmers believe this or that all consumers believe that. Those types of blanket statements tell me you have not done your homework on how to effectively communicate to your target audience.
From the consumer side of things, if a consumer wants to learn about what it is that a farmer does or why they do something a certain way then that becomes a great opportunity to explain the why, the how and the who to the consumer, but do so in a warm, compassionate and inviting environment. Make the consumer feel wanted and welcome, show them you appreciate that they are seeking information from the source and not from social media, and the same holds true for the consumer. If you are a consumer and a farmer asks you a question about why you live in the city, be warm and appreciative that a farmer is reaching out to you so that they can better understand your wants and needs.
One of the next steps that needs to happen is to start hosting conversations between both sides of the isle. There is a real need for both sides to open up and listen to each other, we have to much talking at each other, but not enough actual listening to each other, both sides need to be willing to understand a problem and work towards a solution, as it is today, we like to tell the other side “here is why you are wrong….”, but instead of that dialogue lets change that mindset to “help me understand why you feel that way”, or “help me understand why you live the way you do”.
As an agriculture advocate when was the last time you asked a consumer why they live in the city, or asked them what are their thoughts on how meat is raised or how crops are grown, and then actually listened to their response? If you have had this conversation was it so you can learn about them and better understand them, or was it your goal to think about how your reply is going to be you explaining to them why their thought process is wrong? The end goal of educating the consumer about yourself is the same but how you construct the conversation can make a huge difference in how that conversation will have an positive or negative outcome of the consumers perception of your reality.
In closing, if you like purple tractors, a good sales person would be one that can change your mind and show you how a neon tractor would be more beneficial to your operation without once saying one negative thing about the purple tractor. A great sales person will listen to you and learn about you so that they can best match up their product with your needs, a poor sales person is the one who ignores your feelings and explains to you that you don’t know what you want and they are going to give your opinion because they are the expert. That same theory applies to advocacy, educate me on your beliefs without making me feel uneducated or less special than you. The more that both sides begin to engage with each other the more we can help stop the spread of misinformation and help stop the arrogant perception we may have towards one another.