Agvocate Lesley Kelly Ensures People Have Positive Farmer Interaction
“You’re a bad mother.” “You’re a bad farmer.” It was those insults thrown at Lesley Kelly in 2013 that prompted her to start agvocating.
“I didn’t know how to respond, so that started my whole journey,” she says. “I realized consumers are more disconnected than I thought.”
Kelly received the unkind feedback at a food trade show in downtown Vancouver. “Our farm’s snack food business was expanding out West, and one of our expansion plans was to be in front of consumers sharing our story,” she says about the launch of Martin Munchies. The product is made from barley grown on the family farm in Watrous, Saskatchewan.
A few years later, Kelly saw the chasm between consumers and farmers continue to grow as celebrities like the Food Babe and Dr. Oz gained more followers. “I couldn’t just sit back and watch the disconnect happen further,” says Kelly. “My whole goal was to build a community and start a conversation. Not to try to persuade, but to be someone people go to to ask questions. If that’s the only interaction someone has with a farmer, I want it to be a positive one.”
So Kelly started her blog called High Heels and Canola Fields. The witty name embraces her farming roots as well as her so-called city life. Kelly works in Regina, Saskatchewan, for ag recruiting company WorkHorse Hub and helps out on the farming operation run by her husband, Matt, her parents, and her brother. The farm spans 6,000 acres with canola, wheat, barley, flax, oats, and lentils.
“I’m not involved in the day-to-day operation, but I’ve helped develop the mission, values, land strategies, and leadership skills,” says Kelly, adding that whenever they need help, she also assists as a grain cart operator and cook.
“I have lots of areas of inspiration,” says Kelly about where she gets ideas for blog posts. “Ideas come from my kids, from the farm, and from conversations at the dinner table.”
One of her most successful blog posts came from overhearing a conversation at the grocery store.
“A mom and her daughter put down a package of beef because it had hormones,” says Kelly. “I bought a couple of burgers, came home, and wrote a blog post that had 2 million impressions within three days.”
The blog post compares an A&W Teen burger and a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. Through its Better Beef campaign, A&W has marketed that its beef is better because the meat doesn’t have added hormones.
“In an indirect way, you were led to believe that hormones were bad for you and so was the beef you were eating at places other than A&W,” writes Kelly. “On the other hand, McDonald’s purchases beef from Canadian farmers who use hormones.”
The purpose of that rant, says Kelly, was to show that there is more to the story than marketing campaigns show.
“We are using resources most effectively and using a safe product,” she says.
In the summer of 2017, Kelly, by then an adept blogger and social media user, decided to try a new platform: podcasts. She joined farmer Rob Sharkey as a cohost on The Farmer & the City Girl podcast. Now renamed What the Farm, the podcast is designed to bring in different perspectives on a diverse range of topics.
“Topics range from gun culture, gluten-free diets, mental health, and more,” says Kelly. “Our goal is to bridge the gap and start a conversation.”
Between the podcast, blogging, and social media, Kelly estimates she spends 10 to 15 hours a week agvocating. She justifies this from a business perspective.
“On our farm, there are three pillars, and one is creating trust with consumers,” she says. “There’s not a direct benefit to the bottom line, but it makes sure our farm has tools so we are sustainable and effective.”