‘Tis the season.
I am not referring to holly and jolly, but communication and education. As the fair season is in full swing, those of us in agriculture are afforded the ideal opportunity to meet consumers. It is not Facebook, Twitter, blogging, or reacting to a news story. It is the time to make contact the old-fashioned way — face to face with a hand shake.
Those of us who embrace agriculture are keenly aware of the ever-widening gap of fact and fiction when it relates to our lifestyle. The fair is not just a “fair” atmosphere, but an excellent one rich with opportunity to showcase our passion for the land and living things.
Although there is much to gain in these scenarios, there is also a need to prepare. Following are some pointers that could prove useful. As you load up tack, supplies, cattle and kids, you could also take time to discuss what can be done beyond the barn door!
• Be prepared to address topics of concern with answers that reflect facts AND feelings!
Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell once wrote in an editorial that people would rather know why we do what we do instead of the scientific rhetoric. We do care for our cattle and the land and we demonstrate that with a balance of common sense and compassion. Sharing that feeling is very important!
• Going to a fair is like working on the set of a television reality series. We tune in looking for surprises. Do you have an SOP for the unexpected?
Although a majority of the time, you will be speaking with folks who respect agriculture, you must also understand how to manage the alternate point of view.
• Although you may not be the “Wal-Mart” greeter, you can provide eye contact, a pleasant nod, and an inviting smile that proves you ARE willing to communicate. A missed opportunity is just that.
In the parlor at the Ohio State Fair, it is clear which observers are there to chat and ask questions and we attempt to make the time to answer comments and concerns. Just like in sports, the best defense is a good offense.
• First impressions are lasting impressions. Stand back and “judge” the appearance of the people, the livestock, equipment, and the total picture. Many consumers still have a desire to perceive agriculture as they saw it in childhood books and stories! “Ag is Cool” and that simplistic approach is, too.
• Practice the art of active listening. Although I have suggested that we do more talking, it is in our best interests to also listen! That means we wait to actually hear what is being said. Our minds jump ahead to what our next comment will be, but we need to focus on exactly what is being said.
We should also ask leading questions that prove we are listening.
Every time I train youth on how to present a set of reasons at a dairy judging contest, I remind myself to have that same kind of diligence when addressing consumers.
Whatever your age, whatever the size of your farm, whatever fairs you attend, let us not forget about the positive image we can present to the general public in our thoughts, our words, and in our actions.
‘Tis the season” to do just that!
(Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)