Summer Project: Leverage Photo Ops to Your Advantage, Farmers

Ontario politicians should prepare for a little heartburn as they embark on this summer’s farm BBQ circuit.

The circuit is a staple in constituencies with rural components. It provides photo opportunities and lets politicians see first hand what a farm looks like.

Owen RobertsOn the business end of things, it gives farmers a chance to air some of their beefs, while letting politicians explain difficult positions that can’t be well covered with a few sound bytes.

And all this takes place against a backdrop of agricultural bliss and local fare, which makes for a pretty positive atmosphere.

“The summer barbeque circuit is a great place to put agriculture on the menu with your political guests,” says the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). “Sometimes the toughest conversations pair well with food.”

Indeed, it’s the ideal venue to remind politicians the food they and their constituents eat today and through the rest of the year is a result of farmers’ hard work, and that farmers need some elbow room to grow food – yes, they must be responsible land stewards, but at the same time, they can’t be legislated out of existence.

The OFA is urging its members to be proactive and seek out politicians for a summer visit.

“Be ready to talk up agriculture during the social summer barbeque circuit with politicians and policymakers,” says the federation. “It’s our job to be sure they understand the issues that are impacting our operations. That’s the only way our voices will be heard.”

These are OFA’s four key issues: high electrical power costs, better access to natural gas, land use policies that protect farmland, and practical strategies to protect pollinator health.

For its part, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario is taking a different approach.

Rather than get farmers together with politicians, it’s trying to get farmers together with other farmers – specifically, those under 40 – to rally the troops and strategize how to portray themselves to others.

“As farmers in Ontario, there is so much to be proud of,” it says, “things that you learn just by growing up on a farm, like core values of hard work, dedication and responsibilities, not to mention feeding the community.”

But, it says, that pride is being eroded. What it calls “negative media coverage on farming” has led to consumers’ confusion and concern about farming practices. So, it says, farmers need to create a sustainable future through the ag sector and stand up for what they’re so passionate about.

That’s why it’s partnered with the Agriculture More Than Ever campaign, to promote a positive voice for agriculture. The federation describes this campaign as one that “educates, influences and inspires farmers to stand up and be proud of agriculture.” Top marks to the Christian farmers for developing this relationship with the Ag More Than Ever campaign.

The focal point of this effort will be three free pig and beef roasts hosted this summer by the Christian farmers in Renfrew-Lanark, Wentworth-Brant and Oxford districts, starting July 15, for farmers under 40 years old.

Clearly, they’re trying to capture a youth demographic, farmers who’ll have to explain and defend agriculture now and for a long time to come. They’re planning kids’ games and the whole nine yards, trying to get the whole family involved. Very commendable.

When discussing how to stand up for farming, I suggest they talk about how to proactively use the media to their advantage, and benefit from it rather than blame it for negative portrayals.

Although the media is changing, it isn’t going away, and farmers can use it the same way anti-agriculture groups do. Many suggestions exist for reaching out to the media and telling your story. But basically, it’s all about relationships – with politicians, with other farmers, and with the media itself.

Through social media such as blogs and by other means, relationships can be developed with those who don’t understand agriculture but are open to hearing about it. I believe many people fit into this category…but they need to be reached. And working proactively through the media to tell your story is a viable way to reach them.

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Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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