Though agvocacy is one of the biggest buzzwords in the online ag community, it would appear it hasn’t gained the traction most would desire. If you follow a handful of vocal farmers on Twitter or are an agvocate yourself, it’s easy to start to feel overwhelmed with what many are calling ‘attacks’ on agriculture.
Have we not given agvocacy enough time? Is the content we’re sharing not worth following and taking notice? Are we “preaching to the choir” too much? The possibly over-used metaphor often accompanies a challenge to tweeters, bloggers and writers, industry and farmers alike to appeal to the public and “tell our story”.
But there is one problem. The public isn’t listening. You can write the greatest literary work in the world, but if no one reads it, what has been accomplished?
Some are quick to point out, “we” (a reference that somehow is meant to encompass all of the vast, diverse and unique facets of the agriculture industry into one group) don’t have the audience “they” (being anyone who might represent a different viewpoint) do.
First off, this is true. But “they” didn’t start with a million followers. They started with one or two, just like me and you, and the similarities don’t stop there.
In fact, they are are us – they worry about the health of their children. They see a better future for the environment around them. They seek the highest value return for their money, even that which is spent on food. They are deeply passionate about their cause, to the point of emotional attachment and are driven to do something about it. Their audience is even the same as ours.
So then, the question becomes, how did they develop this mass appeal and apparent influence and what are we doing wrong?
The simple answer is to say it’s fear mongering. I disagree with this, at least to the extent of explaining how these food bloggers got their start and developed a following. Fear mongering may aide the hype, but I don’t think it has staying power. Fears are confronted and subside with time.
No, they simply understand the audience better than we do. They are part of it. They are the consumer and they don’t even have to try to appreciate the challenges, concerns, hopes and desires of the audience we so desperately try to target.
Our point of uniqueness is being a farmer, but our downfall is that we forget. We forget we are so unique, that while we are also consumers, we have a vantage 98% of consumers do not. Think like the ever-passionate and often-animated Crystal MacKay, Farm and Food Care Ontario Executive Director; “if you’ve ever used the word “teat” in a sentence, you’re not like them.”
We don’t need to do a better job explaining what we do. We are very good at that. Most people just don’t care. They don’t care because they can’t relate and understand why they should care (and ‘because we grow your food’, is unfortunately not reason enough). We need to do a better job understanding consumers.
Fortunately, this is pretty easy because they are everywhere! The challenge for most of us, myself included, is to stop agvocating long enough to hear what they have to say. Strike up conversations with people in the grocery story, “city friends” or the parents of your kids’ friends about what they’re purchasing and why. Then listen! Don’t interject or try to counter or persuade. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason! You’ll learn far more about what’s on their minds and be better prepared to tell a more meaningful story. Not suggesting it didn’t have meaning before, but ‘getting in the consumers’ head and removing that farmer bias is the only way we can start getting our message to the masses. Until then, we will only ever be preaching to the choir.