Four things you need to know from the 2014 AgChat Conference

Sep 11, 2014

Farmers, ranchers and ag professionals gathered in Austin for AgChat's Cultivate and Connect Conference.

by Callie Wells, Ohio Farm Bureau

I recently traveled to Austin, Texas to attend theAgChat Foundation’s annual conference, to network with farmers, ranchers and other agribusiness professionals who are using social/new media to tell agriculture’s story. There are many things I could share that were discussed at the conference, but I’ve pulled out the four of the most important to me.

“You need to connect with people because the people you are competing with might be ‘good enough’ and others don’t know the difference.” ~ Thom Singer, networking author and speaker.

While Singer was speaking about the importance of networking and building relationships for our careers, this piece of advice is extremely applicable for agriculture. We need to connect with the people who are asking questions about their food and the people who are no longer closely connected to agriculture because there are other ‘experts’ out there and it is tough for those seeking information to know the difference unless we start connecting and building those relationships.

“We are one generation away from people not knowing how to cook.” ~ Addie Broyles, ‘Austin American-Statesman’ food writer.

While this is not a statistic or fact that can be proven but rather an observation from Broyles, I think most would agree this is very accurate and may be a contributing factor to the dwindling knowledge about food and where it comes from. Broyles also said she believes cooking and culinary education is a big piece of the puzzle in solving many food issues. I witnessed this firsthand recently at Delaware County Farm Bureau’s BBQ Science workshop held at Ohio State. This workshop about cooking food led to great conversations about how that food’s origin.

“They have the luxury to not listen because they will get the food they want from somebody, somewhere. Those of us in agriculture, it is our responsibility to make connections and reach out to people we may not understand where they are coming from.” ~ Janice Person, Monsanto.

I think this puts into perspective the need to listen to the questions and concerns of those perceived to be anti-agriculture. Putting aside our bias and listening with no agenda and truly trying to understand their perspective is important.

I could probably write an entire thesis on the session with Person, who works for Monsanto, and Ellen Malloy, who is a very well connected Chicago foodie. Person and Malloy are unlikely friends if you consider their views about food, but they have built a relationship and come to a place where they appreciate each other’s opinions and are now sharing their story and how they built their relationship, in hopes of bringing people together on food issues.

“I see famine as a distribution problem, and hunger as an economic problem.” ~ Ellen Malloy, Chicago foodie and co-founder of Morsel, an app where chefs, cooks, mixologists, sommeliers, baristas, etc... tell their stories.

Malloy said this explaining why messaging from agriculture about feeding the world does not resonate with ‘people who think like her,’ and that we need to talk in terms of what we know and do, and not in the abstract (i.e. feeding the world). She did a great job of explaining her viewpoints and why many of the talking points and facts we in agriculture like to throw out in the name of educating the public fall short of even drive people further away. She and Person explained that when people have a very emotive, deep feeling relationship with food and you come at them with fact and figures, you show them that you have no understanding of anything that is important to them. Why would they be willing to listen?

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