In a rush to put dinner on the table one evening, I asked for help from my oldest daughter, nine-year-old Noah Grace. It was spaghetti night, and I was cutting it close on getting the garlic bread in the oven by dinner time.”
Ten minutes later, we pull the bread from the oven, dish up plates, call the crew to the kitchen, and count our blessings. Another pleasant dinner of pleading to eat vegetables and asking for basic manners commences.
That’s when Noah Grace says to her family, “I made the garlic bread. You should tell me thank you.”
Silence. Puzzled looks from her middle siblings. A quizzical glance from her father and me. The two-year-old is too busy with her noodles to sense the awkward moment.
I quickly organize my thoughts and attempt to respond in a way that’ll make her want to help make garlic bread again.
“Noah, I cook for you every night, and I don’t sit down at the table and demand a thank you. Sure, they’re nice from time to time, and they make me feel good, but I don’t expect you to say thank you. I love serving and nourishing you. Knowing I’ve done that is thanks enough.”
It wasn’t until a few days ago, when I took a break from cooking for my crew to attend the CommonGround 2015 Conference that I connected what was happening at my own dinner table to what has been happening in agriculture for almost 100 years. CommonGround is the collaboration of the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association. It is a farmer volunteer-driven effort to “lead important conversations about food among the women who grow it and the women who buy it.”
Michael Turley, CEO of Osborn Barr, the public relations firm that oversees CommonGround, challenged his audience of farm women to “adjust how we communicate the noble cause of agriculture.” His challenge was made perfectly clear when he displayed a 1918 advertisement from a farm tools manufacturer: “Farmers Feed the World” was the focus of the one page ad.
How many times have we seen that line? How many dozens of times have you said it or wrote it? I’m guilty, 100 times over. What about the phrase, “Thank a farmer”? Again, guilty. Or, “God made a famer”? Beautiful words, but are they the right words?
“Self-proclamation is really hard for people to process. It’s off-putting,” continued Turley. “We in the industry feel the value of our product is obvious. Why do we have to market ourselves?”
Marketing is imperative in today’s economy because the thank you’s just aren’t coming anymore. The consumer voice has never been more powerful. You have to look no further than your local grocery store to see countless examples: non-GMO cereals, cage-free eggs, organic produce, hormone-free dairy, antibiotic-free beef. Right, wrong or misleading, the labels in the grocery store prove consumers have power – and they use that power with the purchases they make every day.
If you pause to consider every person in the food processing chain, from the farmer to the processor, from the wholesaler to the retailer, the farmer is the most authentic voice. A voice of integrity. The only hands-in-the-dirt, boots-on-the-ground voice in the entire chain. Food Babe and Chipotle do not have their hands in the dirt, nor boots on the ground.
You do. Your stories. Your integrity. Your every-day, honest, sometimes dirty, even ordinary stories – from fixing fence to spraying for cedar trees, from filling the water tank to making garlic bread – will slowly, but surely sway public opinion.
Stephen Fairbanks is a writer at Osborn Barr. During his creative writing workshop he said, “Ag critics have dominated for the past 20 years, and it’s our turn to talk now. Consumers want to read what you have to say. The stuff you take for granted, or think is boring, most consumers find fascinating.”
I have a hunch he’s right. The folks at Osborn Barr make pay-day when they connect agriculture to the consumer. And they’re coaching the 130 farmer volunteers of CommonGround to be an inclusive, positive, credible and real voice for agriculture. They are asking women to step off the farm and meet consumers on their turf – in the cities, on college campuses, in the grocery stores – and engage in conversations that ultimately make pay-day for every American farmer and rancher.
It’s time the ag sector adjusts our play book. We can offer authentic voices that are inclusive of all food choices and farming practices; voices that keep the conversation positive; and credible, real voices of personal stories supported by third-party science that will shift public opinion.
Farming and ranching are noble causes. We know that. And it’s time we respond to consumers in a way that make will make them want to buy our products again and again: “I love serving and nourishing you. Knowing I’ve done that is thanks enough.”
Sarah Goss is the author of www.pottedgoose.blogspot.com.