What should a farmer look like?

Whenever I watch television, it doesn’t take very long before a dentist or doctor appears in a commercial, telling you which toothpaste to use or what to buy to live a healthy life.

In those ads, the main spokesperson (or actor) is wearing a white coat. That white coat is used as a sign of professionalism, because in our minds, a doctor always wears a white coat. But if I were to head to my dentist or doctor for an appointment today, I wouldn’t find either of them in a white coat, just a dress shirt. They probably have a white coat in their closet, but choose not to wear it.

For farmers, it seems we run into the same problem. In advertisements, we tend to see farmers dressed in plaid patterns, overalls and straw hats.

Like the lab coat, the stereotypical appearance is used as a symbol of trust. Consumers trust farmers, and in their mind, that ‘costume’ is what a farmer wears. The difference is that we seem to take offence to the attire we’re so often depicted to wear, because of what we see it representing.

So why does that image of a doctor, that also isn’t representative of every doctor not get the medical industry up in arms, but a farmer’s image is one we worry about?

Case in point: the feature image of this post, and a recent Costco magazine cover.

The topic reminds me of a similar thought Rob Saik had when talking about the use of a red barn and silo image to depict farms.

I didn’t completely agree with Rob, who argued the look doesn’t represent farmers today. Maybe my rationale is partly influenced by the fact that our barns are red, and one actually does have a silo alongside it. But I also don’t agree with the concept that if an image doesn’t represent all farmers, it shouldn’t be used to represent any. In the red barn and silo case, it may not be what every farm looks like, but it is what this farm looks like.

Now if we compare that discussion to the one of clothing, here is the challenge: consumers identify farmers in overalls, probably because many of us wear them. If not today, certainly in the past (for me, just last week). So what does that farmer represent? For most, I’d say they see someone trustworthy, hard working, and family-oriented. Maybe there is a side of ‘uneducated’ and ‘hick’ to go along with it, but the good far outweighs the bad.

For argument’s sake, if we don’t want farmers to be projected to be wearing overalls and straw hats anymore, how should we be depicted? Are ball caps allowed? Most I know wear one, but not everyone. Do they wear cowboy or safety boots? What about running shoes?

I’ve seen farmers who would fit the profile of a hipster, skater, athlete or lumberjack all working with cattle or driving tractors. The simple reality is that there isn’t a simple image to portray a farmer, because just like every farm, every farmer is different. Besides, simply changing the clothing in advertisements, is going to do one of two things: either make the farmer unrecognizable, or simply give a new outfit the same stereotypes.

Instead, the focus has to be on how we change the perception of what that outfit represents.

If you want to change that perception, you are going to have to go out and communicate what a farmer does look like today. But don’t expect a company to pull away from an image, that, no matter how outdated we think it may be, makes people feel good about supporting.

We too should feel good about that.

Let’s just make sure we add that the farmer has a degree, isn’t caught without their cell phone, and, at least usually, puts the overalls away when going to town.

 

Andrew Campbell

Andrew is a dairy farmer in southern Ontario who also specializes in helping farmers learn about social media and advocacy. Once broadcasting farm news reports on the radio, he still likes to keep a close eye on news and issues relating to agriculture. Andrew is the owner of Fresh Air Media (http://www.thefreshair.ca), has a mild addiction to Twitter and believes the Brier & Scotties are the most important sporting events in the country. @FreshAirFarmer

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4 Comments

Chad Peters

I found it very ironic that while reading a complaint about farmers wearing plaid as a stereotype, there is an ad playing in the middle of your text, by a farm chemical company, with a farmer wearing plaid.

Yes, the Costco pic really emphasized the stereotype. At the same time, it probably got every urban person that has no idea about farm attire thinking that he is a true farmer.

I haven’t seen a doctor wear a white coat in years, and I wonder if they are concerned about the white coat stereotype in their trade media. Probably not.

Reply
Jeralyn Rasmussen

Is yours a small hip roof barn, and the only ‘farm’ building? Are you wearing the dopey, mangledstraw hat? While evoking trust, these simplistic images do not depict professionalism. This image may lead to the belief agriculture producers don’t understand the science behind agriculture and they blindly follow conglomerate industry research/products/methods. AND, instead of a fork in their hand, it should be computer. But alas, images are hard, if not impossible to change.

Reply
paul heglund

With me: it is work boots, jeans and a hoodie and if it is warm off goes the hoodie and a black t-shirt remains, no cap either, ever.

I don’t know how farmers should be portrayed but I wince, heavily, at the bib overalls and straw hat. And no self respecting person of any profession should ever where a checkered shirt. Hear that hipsters?
I ned to get back to doing books bye for now

Reply
Darin Wobick

Here we go again. Must be nice to work in a part of the ag industry where you never get dirty. Need I also point out that professionalism is more about being good at what you do. I would be more concerned about “professionals” that can’t spell or are too lazy to proof-read than being worried about how to fork manure with a computer.

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