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Stop Infighting Within Agriculture
Michele Payn has been at the forefront of agvocating for almost 20 years.
In 2001, she founded Cause Matters Corp., a company designed to build connections around the food plate. In 2009, she started #AgChat and #FoodChat on Twitter. Payn has published two books on bridging the gap between farmers and consumers. Her first book was published in 2013; the second was published in 2017.
In other words, she’s had a front-row seat for the evolving conversation between farmers and consumers.
“The conversation has changed because there are more people engaged, more appreciation for the consumer perspective, and more diversity in the conversations. Dietitians have been much more engaged with farmers over the last several years,” says Payn, who lives on a small farm in Lebanon, Indiana, with her daughter and husband, Erik.
However, she acknowledges that not all of the changes have been positive. “One of the things that ag needs to take a serious look at: Are you doing this for yourself and your name brand? Or for the sake of ag?” she asks.
According to Payn, there are two main issues that dilute the effectiveness of agvocating: egos and infighting within agriculture.
“We do ourselves a disservice when we condemn one type of farming to promote ourselves – whether it’s conventional vs. organic or large vs. small,” she says.
Payn prefers to advocate for choice – as long as it’s based on science and not taking away choices from others. “I’m a huge proponent of choice. I believe, as a mom, I have the right to choose what is the best food for my family. As a farm person, I believe I have the right to choose how I farm to best take care of my land and animals,” she explains.
For her second book, Food Truths from Farm to Table, Payn interviewed dozens of farmers so she could share their stories and perspectives. Several had horror stories about the way they were treated by other farmers who followed different farming practices.
“Ag needs to wake up, be more proactive, and support each other and the choices we make,” says Payn. “If people don’t trust how milk is produced, it doesn’t matter if it has an organic label or no label, because they won’t trust it. For consumers, distrust is distrust.”
There are other ways Payn feels farmers can be more proactive in the conversation.
“Being proactive is getting in front of issues and understanding there are issues,” says Payn. “Dehorning is an issue that has been put up the flagpole numerous times by animal activists.”
Payn counters these issues by being graphic and transparent. “I’m graphic when it comes to animal welfare, because I know what cattle with horns do to each other,” she says. “Transparency has to be about being crystal clear about why we do what we do, because people don’t have the context.”
She also encourages farmers to listen closely. “It’s about stepping back from the farm, putting yourself on the other side of the food plate, and understanding why people are asking those questions. Whether you agree with the questions or not, you need to know why they are asking, so you can answer more effectively,” says Payn.
YOUR RIGHT TO FARM
While some farmers dedicate hours to social media and agvocating, that isn’t a requirement to get involved in the conversation.
“I ask people for 15 minutes a day,” says Payn. “Just take the time to do this. It’s about protecting your right to farm.”