By ROSE HARTSCHUH
Visit any corner diner, and the grunts and groans from the regulars will likely sound the same: “They don’t know anything about farming.”
The infamous “they,” of course, refers to our urban neighbors.
Removed, in some cases, three generations from the farm, those without first-hand knowledge of agriculture are aching to learn more. The question is: Are you stepping up to provide real-life answers?
On June 1, I first read a Farm and Dairy commentary by Editor Susan Crowell. The column, “We deserve truth in Conklin dairy farm animal cruelty case,” raised several questions about the video released earlier this summer by Mercy For Animals. It voiced legitimate concerns floating around the agriculture-arena.
The comments posted following Crowell’s writing, however, showed that not everyone agreed with her viewpoint. Within hours, disapproving comments about factory farms, animal abuse, and farmers’ ignorance flooded the page from urbanites outraged at the video.
Sit back or speak out?
I sat back, disappointed and frustrated by the information that was clearly not well-founded. I knew I had a choice to make: either let my blood pressure rise with each slap in the face to American agriculture, or get involved.
I picked the latter, and I could not have made a better choice.
At first, when replying to the comments, I was a little timid to respond. Basically, the format of the online page had Crowell’s commentary on the top, followed by a bevy of comments below.
I was taken aback by the nature of the responses. Readers from all backgrounds and opinions were firing away their comments. Some applauded Crowell’s viewpoints, while others adamantly disagreed, often with groundless logic.
While I knew that many of my perspectives might fall upon deaf ears, I talked anyway.
And, boy was I surprised.
Using the screen name “Ohio Dairy Farmer,” I started by sharing personal stories from our dairy farm. I talked about how milk is tested several times for foreign residue to ensure its safety. I explained how we care for our cows and calves.
I pointed out that a great way to gain facts about dairy production is to visit a dairy farm or to ask a dairy farmer himself.
Within a short period of time, the same people who had been bashing conventional agriculture only minutes before were now asking questions.
I had started out to clear the name of dairy farmers, and unknowingly, I had started an open conversation between farmers and consumers.
“MES” was one such user commenting on the article. This user was particularly worried that all of the dairy industry mistreated its animals. All MES wanted was some transparency.
Through the conversation that ensued, MES gained more trust in farmers and even posted this comment: “I would like to sincerely thank Ohio Dairy Farmer for explaining all this stuff to us city folk. I wish all farmers were like Ohio Dairy Farmer because then I wouldn’t feel angst when in the grocery deciding whether or not to buy milk.”
I first responded to the posts on the article as an alternative to bashing my head on my computer desk, and wouldn’t you know: I actually got somewhere. But, believe it or not, this story is not meant to pat me on the back; it is meant to show other farmers that our words are being heeded.
Is your voice heard?
Consumers are listening, but are we talking enough? Maybe responding to comments on news stories and discussion boards is not your cup of tea. Never fear, there are many other ways to connect with consumers and share a positive message about agriculture.
Have you ever considered using these tools?
— One-on-one conversations with your neighbors
— Speaking to civic groups such as Lions Club, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.
— Holding an open house at your farm.
Stretch comfort zone
It was a bit of a plunge for me to put myself out there and respond to the comments on the editorial, but you know what? I would do it again.
Taking a risk can be scary, and, as farmers, we are taking a risk when engaging with consumers.
We can worry about saying the wrong thing, we can worry about offending someone, we can worry about consumers disagreeing with us, and we can worry about opening up our farm and our livelihood. Or, we can stop worrying and start taking action.
They’re listening. Are we talking?
By the way, the comments are still raging on the discussion board. See for yourself.
While you are there, why not post a comment or two of your own?
(Rose Hartschuh lives with her husband, Greg, on the family farm in Crawford County, where she helps with the many daily chores. She is also a high school agriscience teacher and FFA adviser at Bellevue City Schools. You can follow her on Twitter at @rosehartschuh.)