Most of us have seen footage and photographs of alleged animal cruelty on farms. These images leave a bad impression of agriculture in the minds of many, and do nothing to promote all the positive things there are to say about agriculture.
It’s no surprise the public has become more concerned about food animal production, how animals are raised, and what treatments have been given to animals.
The interest in farmers markets and grocery stores such as Whole Foods are popular with consumers because they provide not just food, but food that is perceived to be fresher, better tasting, and healthier.
Those locations also provide a social time for consumers to interact with growers or other consumers.
The public, for the most part, has a positive attitude and respect for farmers. They just want to know more about their food and the people who produce it. Agriculture is doing a better job of telling its story, but there is always room for improvement.
It’s easy to say that someone else should do the education, and Extension, Farm Bureau, private industry and others do so, but it means even more when the public can hear a farmer describe what he or she does, why it’s important to the consumer, and the benefits they receive.
Recently I attended a livestock quality assurance in-service. Dr. Paul Kuber, OSU Extension specialist in animal science, discussed the many resources developed by Ohio State University Extension, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and a program developed by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) called Conversations with EASE. EASE is an acronym for Engage, Acknowledge, Share, and Earn Trust.
Starting the conversation and engaging people is the first step. Here are a few examples of how you can.
Understand that consumers have questions and concerns, even if they are not the same as your own.
Consumers aren’t necessarily criticizing farmers. Much of the population today is far removed from production agriculture and they are simply trying to learn more about the process.
This whole thing is about trust.
When you hear something from someone you don’t trust, do you believe what they say? Probably not. The same thing is true with conversations about agriculture.
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance advocates having an approach rather than a message. This approach welcomes all points of view. It also realizes that listening to others and sharing stories about agriculture around continuous improvement are the pillars of USFRA’s approach.
Research shows there are persistent questions being asked by consumers. A conversation rather than a debate about whose beliefs or facts are right can help farmers and consumers understand one another.
The USFRA presented findings of a study conducted to answer: To the extent you have concerns about the methods conventional farmers and ranchers use, what concerns you most?
The USFRA believes there are gateway messages that create a productive conversation in which understanding can be achieved. Gateway messages provide a starting point to discuss food production in a meaningful way with consumers.
Think of the gateway message literally as a gate you pass through to have a conversation about your farm and what you do to produce healthy food.
Agriculture has made improvements in telling its story, and there are many opportunities to continue this process. Consider using some of the suggestions offered here to begin a conversation with someone who has questions about agriculture.
Will you change the attitudes and opinions of each person you talk with? Of course not, but you made an attempt, and maybe learned something from them along the way.