One word that I hear more and more these days is “transparency.”
It comes up in conversations about animal agriculture. It was the main theme at the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit that I attended in Arlington, Va., earlier this month with representatives from the dairy, pork, beef and poultry industries.
At the Animal Agricultural Alliance meeting, part of the discussion was why the news media didn’t pounce on the latest case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) ― found in a cull dairy cow that had gone to a California rendering plant in late April ― nearly as hard as they did the “pink slime” controversy in the beef industry a month earlier. Everyone agreed the difference had to do with transparency ― the ag industry and U.S. Department of Agriculture were much quicker to respond in the case of BSE; they presented a more expert analysis and just seemed more forthcoming with the facts.
In a nutshell, it didn’t look like they were trying to hide anything with BSE.
On the farm level, transparency operates in much the same manner.
I got to see the personification of this at the Alltech International Symposium in Lexington, Ky., where Clint Hickman of Hickman’s Family Farms spoke earlier this week.
Hickman’s Family Farms is a large commercial egg operation in Arizona that goes out of its way to get close to the consumer and create transparency.
Four years ago, Hickman invited film crews from the TV series “Dirty Jobs” out to his place. The show is known for capturing the “good, bad and the ugly.” In this case, it turned out good. “It’s been a sales tool when I go talk to customers,” Hickman said.
The Discovery Channel also has been to the farm, shooting footage for its Discovery Education series that reaches thousands of schoolchildren.
The farm makes it known on its web site that “if you’re looking for a speaker, we’ll come out and talk to you,” Hickman said.
Hickman Family Farms likes to get involved, as well, in community events. Recently, about 5,000 people showed up for the Governor’s Easter Egg Roll, which included an appearance by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
Hickman Family Farms has gone out of its way to educate the public about what it is doing ― and so far it has worked.
Granted, Hickman’s has some advantages that a lot of farmers don’t have. For one thing, Hickman’s sells all the way to the end consumer, so there is the satisfaction of showing the whole process from farm to plate.
And, Clint Hickman just seems comfortable being in front of people, including the news media.
“It takes a lot of risk to reach out to the news media… it can blow up in your face,” Hickman says. But, he apparently has learned how to make it work. Reporters know that they can call him on farming issues.
No one is asking you to go to the lengths that Hickman’s Family Farms does. But at least take some baby steps. Make your presence known on some of the social media sites, help sponsor a community event, or give tours to school groups.
The public wants to hear from you. They want to know what you do.
Be flattered. Be genuine. Be open. Be transparent.