Follow the Fellow: The Art of Listening

Editor’s Note: Maryellen Bliss is serving as the Franklin County Farm Bureau Fellow this summer. She is writing a blog about her experience.

Through my time as the summer fellow for Franklin County Farm Bureau, I have been able to have a booth at the Pearl Market in downtown Columbus. Franklin County Farm Bureau and “edible Columbus” are proud sponsors at the farmers market and I serve at an informational booth. In attending the markets, I have done a lot of talking which helps me build my skills in areas like communication that are helpful now and will be transferable to my future. However, one skill that I did not know I would be working on could be defined as the art of listening. 

A quote by Bryant H. Gilbert that fits into my understanding of the skill of listening is: “One of the most sincere forms of respect is listening to what another has to say.” I try my best to tie the benefits and mission of Farm Bureau and “edible Columbus” into a short speech, but that conversation or story that follows what I have to say is sometimes the most important thing. This summer I want to soak in the whole experience of being the fellow and that has included listening to stories of patrons at the market.

Being in the downtown center of the country’s 14th largest city can make the mission of Farm Bureau feel disconnected but I would challenge that notion. I have heard countless stories of appreciation of the presence of farmers markets in the area, connections to the agriculture industry from family members or trips, and genuine questions about the industry at large. 

The story that sticks out the most to me where I just sat and listened and learned a great deal happened this past week. An older gentleman came to my booth and saw that I was with the Franklin County Farm Bureau. He then proceeded to tell me how his family growing up had a large garden and when the time came for the vegetables to be ready, his siblings and he would go outside carrying salt shakers around. The carrots from the garden would be afternoon snacks that they would wash off in the creek and he told me all of the stories with a huge grin. He also mentioned the kindness of the farmer who owned large fields beside them that every year would spread manure on their garden patch. This man no longer lives in a rural place like he grew up in but the appreciation he had stuck out to me.

There is so much to learn when we sit and listen to one another, and agriculture is enriched by the unique narratives each of us brings to the table. It is true that there are now individuals that are generations removed from the farm as the percentage of those livelihoods directly impacted by agriculture becomes a smaller percentage. From hearing the man’s story at the market and other ones like it, I’m reminded that the gap in this bridge with consumers can be mended with human connection. Taking the time to tell our own stories is vital for establishing a human connection for the passions and causes that mean a great deal to us. However, we can’t forget that active listening is an art we must also put into practice.