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4 Tips to Telling Your Farm’s Story
If you see red at every antifarming comment on your Facebook feed, Amber Pankonin has some advice: Slow down and think carefully before you reply.
Pankonin is a registered dietitian who operates a communication consulting service and teaches nutrition part time at the University of Nebraska. As an expert in both matters of nutrition and effective communication, she says it’s easy for you to become defensive or lured into a trap when engaging the growing generation of food activists.
“It’s especially true in online social media, such as Facebook,” she says. “Some of those people are internet trolls looking for a fight. Don’t feed them. Remember, anything you post online can be easily taken out of context.”
Pankonin has a four-step process that she encourages you to follow in conversing with nonfarmers, be it online or in person.
1. Listen for an opportunity. “I’ve had many discussions with nonfarmers that start with them wanting to vent about a food or farm issue,” she says. “Sometimes they don’t even have an actual question. It’s important to listen and wait for the opportunity to insert yourself.”
When you listen, really listen. “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Recognize the emotion that is coming from consumers. Try to identify the real question they have, before you reply,” she says.
2. Find a shared value. Maybe it’s about kids, or a particular food store, or organics. “Let the person you’re interacting with know that you share some of their same concerns – that you have kids. This affirms their concerns without talking down to them,” she says.
3. Ask permission to share. Not everyone wants to hear from you, regardless of your credentials as a farmer. If they don’t, just move on.
4. Share your story and the science behind it. Once you’ve identified yourself as a farmer, it sets you up for a deeper conversation. “You have a story to tell about your farm. People usually want to hear it,” says Pankonin.
She gives an example. “You’re in a grocery store and you hear a consumer talking about all the hormones that are given to chickens. You could start by telling them that you care about your kids, too. Then say you’re a farmer and ask if you can talk about your experiences. After that, you can share the science of farming, and that chickens don’t get any hormones,” she says.
“Most people just want you to acknowledge their concerns. If you do that and follow these steps, it can lead to deeper and more effective discussion,” she says.
Sometimes, you may lead the discussion with the science of agriculture. Unfortunately, not everyone trusts it.
“We expect them to be immediately won over by our story and the science. Most likely, it will take several conversations. Slow down and don’t give up after the first one!” she says.
She encourages you to get out of the bubble of only talking to other farmers.
“Build relationships with other professionals like scientists, dietitians, and even bloggers. It will help you stay better connected, and you’ll grow by hearing perspectives from others,” she says.
“As a registered dietitian, I sometimes get questions I can’t answer, so it’s great for me to have farmers and scientists who are willing to provide valuable information. Likewise, farmers are not dietitians. There is a lot we can learn from each other,” she says.
Name: Amber Pankonin
Credentials: Registered dietitian; nutrition communications consultant; president of the Nebraska Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Background: Her grandparents farmed in southeast Nebraska. “My parents did a great job of teaching me where food comes from. It inspired me to do the work I do today,” she says.