More often than we’d like to admit, we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot when talking about the challenges we face in farming and ranching. These conversations with friends, neighbors and family take place at the local cafe, filling station, after church or Friday evening ball games.
During these visits, farmers and ranchers sometimes conclude that consumers and non-aggies don’t like them. Or, their urban acquaintances don’t listen to them or care one iota about raising crops or caring for livestock.
Most people don’t need to know much about farming today. They probably think about agriculture less than 30 seconds a year and 20 seconds of that time is based on misinformation.
Why should they?
Do farmers and ranchers wonder what a Detroit automaker does? Who he or she is? And what about their family?
While non-farm and ranch people harbor misconceptions about agriculture, believe me, they like farmers and ranchers. They admire this profession.
It’s important to bridge this informational gap between farm and ranch producers and consumers. But navigate this divide skillfully.
No one wants to be educated or preached to. Humans like to engage in conversations. They like give and take. Usually, if a person is knowledgeable about a profession like raising cattle, another person who doesn’t know about the livestock industry might be curious and willing to listen.
And while no one understands agriculture like farmers and ranchers, we must encourage and foster dialogues with those who know little about this profession. This includes people outside our comfort zone — someone we might not talk to about what we do like city cousins, foodies, medics, lawyers, etc.
Take the opportunity to conduct such conversations on a flight to another state or country. Develop dialogue with people at a professional meeting, just about anywhere and with anyone who isn’t savvy about agriculture.
Times continue to change and so do attitudes and opinions. Forty years ago, people expressed little interest in agriculture.
As a fledgling photo journalist in the mid-1970s, I can’t remember someone asking me about agriculture at a social event. This just didn’t happen, even though many of my friends knew I worked in journalism and wrote about farming and ranching.
Agriculture wasn’t hip, cool or fly back then. Today the tables have turned and people are quite interested in where their food comes from. They don’t hesitate to walk up to you, cocktail in hand and ask, “Tell me about antibiotics, beef production, GMOs.”
Talk to them. Tell your story. Exude passion about your chosen profession.
But remember — ask them about their profession, who they are and what makes them tick.
Develop relationships and build on those dialogues. Before we can expect someone to listen to us talk about how important international trade is to our bottom line, we must listen to them tell us about their home and garden, their chosen career or whatever else they choose to talk about at the time.
There is a voice that doesn’t use words — listen.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.