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The Power of Meeting Face-to-Face With Consumers
On May 13, 2016, visitors at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., were greeted by a special guest. Skyped in from her farm in New Bloomington, Ohio, Emily Buck was there – displayed on a large screen – to answer questions from museum visitors and to share her experience as a farmer.
As school groups passed by, the lamb in her arms sparked a lot of questions, says Buck, including what its life cycle was going to be and what its life looked like. “As older adults came through, the conversation was about the combines they were seeing in pictures, the economics behind farming, what it takes to be a farmer today, what that means as a business, and a couple of questions on GMOs,” she says.
These real-time conversations about where food comes from was the goal of the Ask a Farmer program in the museum’s American Enterprise exhibition, which ran for more than a year. While Buck’s participation was only for one day, she’s made it a practice to attend and host events for nonag audiences to answer questions and shed light on what farmers do.
“It’s very rewarding to talk to people from different backgrounds. It opens my eyes to talk to people who live in New York and to see their process of getting food, how they get information, and realizing that’s probably why they think certain things,” says Buck. “I think we learn just as much from others as we go out and talk about farming and ag.”
Opening Eyes, Changing Opinions
Buck’s participation in the Ask a Farmer program stemmed from the American Farm Bureau’s Go Team, which the Farm Bureau taps into when opportunities arise for farmers to take part in events, media interviews, or congressional hearings.
The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance has formed a similar network through its Faces of Farming & Ranching program, which Buck joined in 2016.
“The idea is to take some farmers who are engaged in different types of ag and let us talk to consumers in venues we wouldn’t typically get to,” says Buck. “I went to the Sustainable Brands conference in Detroit where all the major food companies were talking about sustainability. We were there to say our farmers have always been sustainable and to show how we’ve done it.”
Locally, Buck and her husband, John, arrange an ag weekend for participants in the Leadership Ohio program, which includes a tour of their corn, soybeans, wheat, and sheep farm. “It’s been great for people because it opens their eyes,” she says. “We end one day with a bonfire at our house and let them ask anything they want about farming and ag. They are just amazed about things, and it sort of changes opinions.”
More than 170 leaders in medicine and the military have participated in this program over the last six years.
The Bucks continue to do the tour year after year, as well as other agvocacy efforts, because they want farming to be an option for their 5-year-old daughter, Harlie.
“We want a healthy industry that our daughter can go into if she wants to,” says Buck.
In addition to farming, Buck is a professor of ag communications at Ohio State University, and she writes a blog at cultivatingconversation.com. Here are some agvocacy tips she shares with her classroom as well as with farmers.
- Be prepared for tough conversations. “Know how to have a productive, two-sided conversation and not an argument,” she advises.
- Explain your practices on a level consumers will understand. “I don’t talk about no-till to a consumer. I talk about tilling a garden and what it looks like when you don’t. Then I take it to the 1,000-acre level,” she says.
- Don’t share negative posts. “When negative things come out on social media (about farming or ag), we have a tendency to share it. But by sharing it, we are perpetuating it out there more,” says Buck. She says it’s better sharing positive stories vs. adding fuel to the fire of a negative story.