Lessons I’ve learned while sticking my neck out

This isn’t my normal kind of post but it’s something that I want to share. It seems more and more I’m incredibly frustrated some days by the conversations I find. It’s amazing how well people think they know me just by reading a few (or sometimes just one) of my posts on social media. And those folks can be pretty quick to place judgment. Communication is hard most some days.

If you’re willing to stick your neck out there to voice an opinion, especially on a site like CNN, you had better be willing to take some flack and critical feedback. I thought I would share a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way as an agriculture advocate.

lessons learned through advocacy and conversations
Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t

There are a lot of lazy people out there.

I’ll be honest, I like cattle and horses a lot more than I like people most days. I understand horses and cows. What I don’t understand is how people can buy into information and never make the effort to look at all sides of an issue. Seriously, where do people come up with these things? If you saw it in a documentary, then found it again on a website, it has to be true, right? Forget the other perspectives, common sense, or science. Emotion rules!

Agriculture needs to do a better job of recognizing and sharing improvements that can be made in the food chain.

While I knew this was the truth, this has been made even more loud and clear to me after reading the conversations/posts from consumers in response to my CNN articles. We’ve done a terrible job of showing our customers the improvements we have made and we avoid the hard topic of what we need to improve on next.

It is the responsibility of farmers and ranchers to tell our story and listen to our customers.

And we’re terrible at listening. There’s a lot of pride and independence instilled in farm and ranch life. Why should we bother making an extra effort to tell people about what we do? Because other people are telling the general public about farming and ranching and those stories often are not true. As the people most directly connected to what our customers eat, we are the real experts. The sad part is people believe the stories that are being told about us and it’s an uphill battle to fight first impressions. Communication may be hard, but it is necessary.

People are jerks.

If you want to find the cruelest community in America, scroll down to the comments section of any major news outlet. Seriously, people actually say those things? You bet! And there’s not much use in arguing with them. On top of that, you have people that seem to comment just because they like to see their name show up. They add no value to the conversation. There must be great wi-fi reception underneath bridges where the trolls live.

Respect your peers, regardless of production practices.

I am human, I share my perspective based on my life experiences. Just because I describe my experiences from one type of farming/ranching, doesn’t mean I don’t support other production types. It’s not all or nothing, but if you listen to my critics, you would think that was the case. If you thought being a jerk was only true for the general public, go see some of those within the agriculture community who label themselves as “independent thinkers”.

The pendulum swings both ways.

I akin this to the swing in fad diets. One day Atkins diet is the rage, the next day carbs are manna from heaven, and next thing you know everyone thinks they have celiac disease and wheat is the devil. People go to extremes and when they do, folks on the other end of the spectrum are always wrong. This goes for the methods of agriculture we choose to discuss and we can be so wrapped up with the infighting that we forget to talk about the middle ground. Not that we don’t have it, we just forget about it at times.

Transparency is the answer. Even that will be attacked.

The only way to address all the misinformation out there is with honest communication and transparency. However, when we are transparent we can be heavily criticized for what is revealed. To make it worse, when we aren’t transparent, critics think we have something to hide. Agricultural tools have changed drastically over the past few decades and we’ve done a terrible job of being transparent about those changes, why they were made, and the improvements they provide. Most people can understand these changes if we take the time to explain them.

It is possible to become overwhelmed by social media.

Holy cow! I can’t tell you the number of days in the past 3 years when I have wanted to throw away each and every mobile device in my hand and rip out the internet connection on my laptop. All the previous points are just introductions to the reasons for that. Social media gives people a bullhorn and the filters turn off when people hit the keyboards. Taking in and responding to all of the communication that come across your social media fields can be overwhelming and depressing. They can make you angry and want to take off for the pasture never to return.

But we have a responsibility to join the conversations and be present when people have questions. Otherwise, we lose our voice in the conversations and essentially any representation when it comes time to make decisions that determine our ability to continue making a living in the world we live in. The stupid people may have the bullhorn, but we have to remember there are lots of folks out there silently listening, watching our (re)actions, and wanting to learn more about where their food comes from.

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  1. You hit the nail on the head. As for not arguing again right on. Remember the old saying, “Never wrestle with a pig, you just get dirty and the pig likes it.”

  2. I’ve learned a lot of these things too. I’ve been blogging since high school, really, but I’ve been blogging on my current block for >4 years but only have been blogging about agriculture for a year.

    People are absolutely lazy and have the mentality of “if I saw it on the internet, it must be true and there’s no changing my mind”…especially when what they saw was the rat tumor meme and other popular misinformation memes.

    While I do respect our peers in this industry no matter what production method, I find it a constant struggle to always be crucified as the evil conventional farmer who sprays loads of chemicals on their poisonous GM seeds by the organic crowd. I know this doesn’t reflect all organic farmers, obviously, but a lot of it is due to the organic marketing which I’ve never respected (again—not the farmers’ fault).

    I do agree we have to listen to our consumers and I do have a great mix of people on my blog who thank me and ask questions and want to learn, but then there’s also the “jerks” you talk of who come onto a farmer’s blog to tell me all that I’m doing wrong and what I should be doing differently when they have never stepped foot on a farm and really have no experience or knowledge of agriculture. I’m always happy to educate, agvocate, whatever you want to call it—but it really grinds my gears when people don’t want to learn and are trying to school me.

    Anyway, very good article, Ryan—keep it up!

  3. Keep up the great work-don’t let them get you down. Those of us involved in agriculture appreciate your continued willingness to stick your neck out, and take the hard hits to try to educate consumers to benefit everyone in the industry.

  4. This article makes me so nervous. I’m a rookie blogger working on a piece defending company-controlled hog barns, and the m or I research, the more I wonder if my opinion will ever make a difference in changing people’s perceptions. You are absolutely right, Ryan: people outside of the ag industry have a hard time understanding and accepting not only how we do things, but why we do them. Thanks for being one of the braver bloggers that is willing to stand up and speak up. Your opinion IS appreciated!

  5. Good article. As for the guy in the trenches sharing more, he’s already overworked and underpaid just to get product produced most times. Some of you are very good at educating the public but many only speak “their language” and that isn’t understood by the city folk.
    I’m sitting in the spot “semi retired with furnished trailer off the farm” with time and interest in sharing what goes on with our dairy farm but the cost of insurance blows it out of the water. Also children who’s parents don’t give a darn about what they are doing might be a nightmare I don’t want to deal with. I do well in general with children~4-Hers and such but the rich pampered city kids may be beyond my coping.
    I’ve written a book about our life on the farm, 45 yrs of dairy and 8 moves in two states and one long term sick kid (well after the change in states), what a joy that crazy adventure was.

  6. Ryan: Nice voice – I can hear you, and it sounds authentic, and that is 80% of the blogging battle.

    I am interested in your comment about “Agriculture needs to do a better job of recognizing and talking about improvements that can be made in the food chain.” I like to focus on the intersection of technology and the food chain – and would like to hear more from you on this particular topic. Perhaps I can showcase your thoughts with my own on Twitter and on my blog?

    Christine White

  7. As you know, Ryan I straddle both side of this debate. You are one of the few sane, rational voices in the discussion. I appreciate what you do.

  8. Part of the problem is that bloggers and individuals writing comments need to understand that no matter what they say to explain, defend or educate about animal agriculture or any animal enterprise, that the animal rights radicals will still attack, belittle and try to destroy or neutralize your comments. This is because their agenda is more important to them than the truth. Having been in the trenches, so to speak, against this animal rights ideology, I have seen this happening as far back as the eighties…and it is only increasing, both in fury and in the number of animal enterprises under attack. Who would have ever imagined that there would be a propaganda war against raising animals for food? Well, it is here, thanks to those who operate from a belief system who have no real interest in animal welfare but clothe their writing in the cloak of welfare, while the real agenda is elimination.

  9. Great post! We’ve had a few pretty deep conversations about some of these items, and you really hit the nail on the head. And all of these things are true for ANY cause you advocate for. I was surprise to get pushback once when advocate for cancer research — someone was offended that I fundraised for American Cancer Society when there are so many other charities that need my help “more.”

    Just like food-related subjects, that’s so much a matter of feeling, personal liberties, and experience. Thanks for a great post and a taste of perspective.

  10. You are right: We need to speak to those who are silent. Their ears are open and they are listening to both sides.

  11. Ryan – Thanks for writing this. I’ve followed you on Twitter for a couple of years now, reading a lot of what you have written. I started sharing my perspective from a conventional dairy farm who also appreciates both local & global food supply about three years ago. I found myself at times getting dragged down (that’s right, down) in conversations, always ready for the next comment and always wanting to have the last “word.”

    Reading into your post, particularly the section about people being jerks and “saying” nasty things – I think that while social media has given a voice to farmers and ranchers to share their stories and vantage points during such an age of misinformation, particularly those who otherwise might be too shy to address a crowd or strike up conversation at the local coffee shop, it also provides a forum for people to “say” (write) things they wouldn’t otherwise say. The sad part is they have more time to think about what they write, too.

    I appreciate your voice and look to you as a resource. Know that for every troll with a negative comment, you have many more supporting you and your efforts – probably more than you know.Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this.

  12. Ryan, this is a great article. I really appreciate your points of view and honesty. Not just in agriculture, we all need to listen better. And communicate more honestly. Then we can become true advocates, (or agvocates!) for our cause. Love your writing style, more please!

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