Finally, The Right Kind of “Agvocacy”

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I’m no psychologist, psychiatrist or sociologist, but I understand from discussions with experts that as social creatures, humans are prone to experiencing “group mentality.” Quite simply: we are easily influenced by the thoughts and actions of our associates. We also tend to associate with like-minded individuals, who reinforce our biases. It is my concern that in this age of social media, forming communities based on interests and biases is too easy, and we are losing rational thought.

Think back to a tweet or a post you read and agreed with wholeheartedly. You likely took half a second to share it with your friends, and smiled as you watched it spread like wildflowers through your clan. In a traditional setting, it’s more than likely one of your friends or family members would dislike that particular forage, and might even politely challenge your view. That discourse seems less likely to happen with social media, and when it does, it is usually aggressive, and met with defense before thought. Thus, we are sucked into a vortex of our own beliefs, our minds becoming increasingly closed to alternative theories.

I’ve long been confused about “agvocacy.” I’ve looked it up a few times. Have you? The definitions are vast, and informal. It seems to mean different things to different people. For a while, I thought it meant “sharing your story,” but I didn’t understand the appeal, or the incentive. As far as I could see, popularity was the only incentive. Then, A&W tried to tell its story as a marketing pitch (with monetary incentive), and it was met with all kinds of hostility from the ag community, for merely insinuating their product was “better” (though never actually attributing this to the production practices).

After that I thought, “‘agvocacy’ must be defined as the unselfish (not for profit) promotion of the agriculture industry.” Well, I threw that definition out the window when I saw a product logo in a Peterson Farm Bros parody video. Is PR self-sustainable without reward? Every time we promote the ag industry, we promote product purchasing, no?

In search of further understanding, I attended a few workshops, seminars and speaking engagements around ag-advocacy. According to many of our industry’s leaders, we are to speak as one, positive voice. We are? How? None of us agree on what “sustainable” land/livestock management really boils down to. Is it organic? Is it conventional? Does it mean tilling sometimes, all the time or never? Does it mean eating local, or supporting international trade? I mean, you don’t see Ford, Dodge and Chev getting together to talk to the world about the importance of buying all vehicles (slight digression: they also don’t encourage their customers to #thankadealership).

Also, in “speaking up and speaking positively about agriculture” consider how easy it is to inadvertently defend inappropriate farming practices. Not all farmers are stewards of the land. Not all farmers adore their animals. Overall, we may have a very commendable industry, but, as in any other, there are individuals who should be held accountable to their actions, whether they’re breaching a company contract or legitimately committing acts of animal cruelty.

There’s also a fine line between advocacy and activism. Before asking/demanding that all farmers be loved/respected, ask yourself how successful soap-box campaigns have been on changing your opinions.

Read more: The Futility of Demanding Respect

An advocate does, by definition, speak positively about a cause. So, really, those leaders were right, an agriculture advocate (or “agvocate”) would speak on behalf of agriculture, in general. It just seems like a nearly impossible task, in such a (wonderfully) diverse industry.

The following video was made by the National Farmers’ Union and British farmers, and is one of the closest definitions of “agvocacy” I can find. 

My concern with the “agvocate” movement is not that it may ultimately bridge the gap it seeks to find between consumers and producers. My concern is that many self-described “agvocates” are sharing information not because they have considered it from all angles and believe it to be a good message, but because of the feelings it evokes in them, and how they think it will be accepted by the herd. And that leads me to my final question: is the pro-ag messaging being communicated as it appeals to the audience agricultural advocates hope to have, or the one they already do?

Read more: The Power of Words: A New Word for Consumer

I don’t know about you, but as an impressionable consumer, I think I may just trot down the aisle looking for produce made in Britain.

 

Debra Murphy

Debra Murphy is a Field Editor based out of central Alberta, where she never misses a moment to capture with her camera the real beauty of agriculture. Follow her on Twitter @RealAg_Debra

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6 Comments

Rob Wallbridge

Great article. In my opinion, too many people are far too quick to take offence at any attempts at market differentiation, at the same time they dismiss consumers as either uninformed or driven solely by the desire for cheap food.
I think one of the ways we can speak up positively for agriculture, and reach out to a broader audience, is to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of the industry, at the same time we acknowledge and respect the diversity of consumers.

Reply
Meaghan

Perfect timing for this article!

I wholeheartedly disagree with ag speaking as one positive voice. Isn’t this Groupthink? Will we have 2 Minutes Hate against those who disagree?

Dismissing consumer concerns as uninformed or “scientifically illiterate” is shortsighted. How “informed” are most of us towards an industry other than our own?

For me, building relationships with those outside of ag as a PERSON, not a farmer or agvocate is key. Parroting talking points will only lead to people tuning out. Respect/love/thanks shouldn’t be demanded. After all, we farm because we want to, right?

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Peter

I’ve been impressed with the AG community in Britain before. I read a story on they’re Outstanding Young Farmer award/convention that really made me want to go. So many young people involved. I believe there was also a reality show about the life of a farmer in the UK.
This video lacked the “demand for respect” we feed you so you better thank us. I really enjoyed it and I think this kind of advocacy could reach a broader audience.

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Peter

I’ve been impressed with the AG community in Britain before. I read a story on they’re Outstanding Young Farmer award/convention that really made me want to go. So many young people involved. I believe there was also a reality show about the life of a farmer in the UK.
This video lacked the “demand for respect” we feed you so you better thank us. I really enjoyed it and I think this kind of advocacy could reach a broader audience.

Reply
dairycarrie

So as a self described agvocate, I can get behind a lot of what you’re saying here.

One thought that we may disagree on is the importance of telling your story. On my blog and social media sites I tell my story everyday. Why do I not speak of ag as a whole very often? Because I am only an expert in what we do on our farm. I think if people stuck to talking about what they do on their farms and talked about their choices without bashing other choices we would be better off.

I’m not out to bash other farming practices. But I will call out things I find to be insulting or plain wrong, like Panera’s EZChicken campaign. I don’t think we need one unified voice and fighting for that is as useful as herding cats. You will never find 2 farmers that do everything the same way. We are an independent breed and we simply aren’t going to agree on everything.
That doesn’t mean it’s ok to be disrespectful to someone else just because they choose a different path. I see a lot of disrespect amongst the different groups of farmers and it is a good goal to encourage everyone to knock that off. I don’t see that as pushing for a unified voice.

Enough rambling, good post!

Reply
Fiona Lake

Brilliant post and perfectly timed for Australian agriculture. A handful of self-appointed “agvocate” leaders have popped up on social media, particularly twitter, and have recently been lecturing others on ‘sending positive messages’, ‘sending a consistent message’, presenting a united front & not being disagreeable etc. As ‘dairycarrie’ says – that’s like trying to herd cats. And I see a diversity of voices and opinions as actually being very healthy and useful, helping to break down 2-dimensional farmer stereotyping. And the pollyanna lecturers overlook the fact that there are a wide range of reasons for people choosing to be on twitter. Many rural Australians are on twitter for camaraderie, laughs, to share useful and interesting information and to hear different opinions. And to meet like-minded people they’d otherwise never meet. Very few are on twitter simply to be “agvocates”. And the latter are at great risk of burnout. For most, there must be some form of payback in return for energy and time invested. For some it is kudos they’re seeking (hence, self-appointed “leaders”), for others they’re dreaming of being financially rewarded (eg wanting to be paid for advice).
I also agree wholeheartedly with the danger of people increasing the percentage of people they interact with, who think the same way (via social media). This has long been a problem in cities, as people with similar ways of thinking end up in the same schools then workplaces; living in the same suburbs and belonging to the same groups. They can mistakenly end up believing the whole world thinks like they do – simply because they’re never away from people of similar upbringing etc.

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