Americans have increasing concerns about their food, from the farm to the fork. And farmers can be a valuable part of the conversation.
But according to Ohio Farm Bureau Senior Director of Issues Management David White, what agriculture has been telling the public for decades – primarily focusing on data and science – is no longer cutting it with today’s consumer.
“Nobody will trust the facts and science until they know they can trust the person they are coming from,” White said.
That’s why last month’s spokesperson refresher course hosted by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Center for Food and Animal Issues focused on farmers building trust with consumers through proactive and meaningful dialogue.
A session during the event led by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance detailed the art of establishing common ground through open, transparent and honest dialogue, and finding shared values on which to build positive relationships.
This shift in the farmer-consumer relationship is not a short-term campaign that will yield quick results, but rather a long-term commitment to today’s consumers that White said will take time and hard work.
“We have been hearing our consumers for a long time, but we must start to listen to them if we want to be able to continue farming with their trust,” White said.
He further shared that agriculture advocacy efforts based upon an “either you win or you lose” mentality will not be effective. “This is not about one-upsmanship,” he said. “We have to have open minds, hearts and barn doors and channel our passion for what we do into conversations that create win-win situations for farmers and the people they feed.”
Putting it into practice
Suburban mothers from a Columbus-area parent-teacher organization were invited for an afternoon of roundtable discussions with farmers during the event, which went 15 minutes longer than its allotted time due to both parties enjoying the opportunities to connect.
Marion County Farm Bureau member Steve Wickersham said the real-world exercise helped him learn how to better listen before speaking and determine which direction was best to take a conversation when addressing concerns. He said the experience provided a good model for farmers to talk within their communities and that he’s “excited” about opportunities to develop similar roundtable discussions in his own community.
It starts locally
Wickersham said the shift toward more proactive dialogue is positive for all parties involved. “We don’t need to be so defensive about everything we do,” he said. “But we do need to change some things to help build trust in what we do
He said those changes need to start locally.
“Sometimes, we as farmers are sleepwalking, wanting to be left alone on our farms. But we need to wake up. It’s a whole big world out there, and we have to see the other side. We cannot just cram things down people’s throats anymore. There’s a little bit of good in everybody. We have to appreciate all that is good out there, and take a big picture view.”
For decades, Ohio farmers have said more needs to be done to bridge the divide between those who grow food and those who eat it. Today, we find that a major barrier to a better partnership with consumers stems from a lack of meaningful dialogue and subsequent loss of trust.
Because food and agriculture are fundamental to our quality of life, we believe the interests of the farmer are in line with the interests of all Ohioans. That is why we’re fostering conversations wherever we can to explore our mutual interest in food, family and community security.
Photo caption: In the May/June issue of Our Ohio magazine, read how the Hastings family in northern Ohio is working to build relationship with their community by its dairy farm to the public. Photo courtesy Hastings Dairy.