Category Archives: Agvocate

How to lose an argument on food and agriculture topics

how to lose an argument in food and agriculture conversationsA few weeks back, I shared several lessons learned while sticking my neck out and engaging in discussions centered around food and agriculture topics. Today, I share a few lessons learned by failure; sometimes my own.

  1. Assuming science will give us all the answers; it only gives us some of the answers. Pick a topic, any topic. Chances are you can find “scientists” on either side of the issue. Many people in the general public do not trust science or believe it can be bought-off. Often times, questions may be more about the ethics than the science.
  2. Using economics as the justification for all of our practices. If you own a business or depend on something for your livelihood, chances are who know what makes sound economic sense. “Of course we treat our cows well or they wouldn’t produce for us,” probably doesn’t convey the right message to a non-farm consumer. Making more money and welfare of animals/environment doesn’t always go hand in hand.
  3. Assuming that you have to speak up in defense of all agricultural practices. Chances are you don’t have experience in all areas, you’ll get backed into a corner and lose all credibility. Also, not all practices are defensible. (Read more) Wait, why are we waiting to play defense?
  4. Being reactive rather than proactive. Be candid. If you know it’s a (possible) issue, be transparent now. Waiting until it meets your “trigger for action” means you’re already behind. (Read more)
  5. Assuming we can’t do better. There is always room for continual progress. Just because a practice was the best we knew how to do 10 years ago, does not make it the best available practice today. (Read more)
  6. Attacking everyone who disagrees with you in a negative, critical manner. Food is a personal issue to most folks. Many folks associate animals with their pets at home. These are emotional topics for everyone. If you get defensive and attack, you’re not contributing to productive dialogue. (Read more)
  7. Not being willing to listen because we are so busy responding. Communication is a two-way street. You have two ears and one mouth. Often times we need to stop and ask questions, listen, and hear what others are saying. (Read more)
  8. Assuming that the lunatic fringe is the general public. We spend way to much time focusing on lunatics and not working with the public. (Read more)
  9. Assuming that because someone disagrees with you they are stupid, evil or both. Good people can look at the same issue differently. Not everyone’s situation or circumstance is the same. There is more than one way of growing food and livestock. Respect that fact. (Read more)
  10. Not working to branch outside your comfort zone. Stop preaching to the choir. Engage in other conversations, seek out other perspectives. The more you learn about other perspectives, the more you’ll discover how much (or how little) you know about your own. (Read more)

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” — Darwin

But sometimes, honestly, you just have to know how to lose gracefully. And then some will argue it’s possible to lose the argument, but win the cause.

Tips for approaching controversial subjects…

  • When possible, set the stage to avoid fear of retaliation from opposing viewpoints
  1. Listen respectfully, without interrupting
  2. Respect one another’s views
  3. Criticize ideas, not individuals
  4. Commit to learning, not debating
  5. Avoid blame and speculation
  6. Avoid inflammatory language
  • Consider your own biases or confusion surrounding the issue
  • Recognize the diversity of the group. This is an asset and can lead to authentic conversation
  • Set a framework and objectives for the discussion that lead to engagement and consideration of opposing viewpoints
  • When possible provide a foundation and context for better understanding
  • As a moderator, foster civility and prepare to deal with tense or emotional moments
  • At the end of the conversation summarize and reflect, then always leave the door open for follow-up conversations.

Read more tips for approaching controversial subjects in an earlier post.

#FoodForThought Where’s The Disconnect?

Thinking out loud here. Where’s the disconnect when it comes to food? I’ve said it many times in the past few years that most Americans are disconnected from agriculture and that we farmers, ranchers and those of us involved in agriculture need to advocate, share our stories, and work to fix that disconnect. That people need to get out and talk to a farmer to learn what actually happens on today’s farms and ranches and to learn more about where our food comes from.

But, now I want to turn the table and pose a different question. Why are farmers and ranchers and those of us involved in agriculture so disconnected from most Americans?

For example, take a millennial guy in an office in New York City. Is he disconnected from agriculture or is agriculture disconnected from him? #FoodForThought

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Running Confused | Where Do I Find Credible Information?

Running information facts confused
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Running should be easy. Right? You buy a pair of running shoes, lace them up and take off down the road. But wait…. What shoes are the right fit? Will they injure my feet if they’re not just the right fit? Should I stretch before I run? What’s the best way to build up my speed and endurance? Should I be eating differently? How long before I can run a marathon 5k? Does it injure my feet if I run on pavement? How often should I run? Am I improving my fitness? Should I be lifting weights too? Will this spare tire ever disappear?!? Gahhhhh!

Ok, well, maybe running isn’t as simple as it first appears…

I’m not a professional runner by any means. In the past 2 years, I’ve put in over 400 miles (never mind all those runs I didn’t record on my running app) running and on the treadmill. For me, running is an opportunity to clear the mind and to counteract those hours I’ve spent at the desk in grad school and now with my current job. Joining the local runners’ club is a great way to branch out of my normal ag circles and meet other folks who love the outdoors, a recovery beer, and staying active. It’s an opportunity for a breath of fresh air and to kick my day off to an awesome start. I’ve even purchased a gym membership so I can change up my workouts with different equipment.

But the more I run, the more I am confused on how to workout properly. If I google for tips on how to improve or run properly, I’m overwhelmed by the noise coming from so many directions. Even the Runner’s World and Men’s Health Magazines give me completely different answers, sometimes in the same issue. I’m really not sure where to turn for the right answers, even with hours of study.

Then it hits me… This must be how it feels to walk into a subject with little prior exposure or knowledge of what is considered a credible source of information. Is this how it feels for urban consumers seeking to learn more about our food supply? How do they learn where to turn for information? Why would they trust farmers or scientists? How would they find those folks to hear what they have to say?

How do I know I have the right information when it comes to running? Do I believe one source over the other because I’m sold on the emotion of wanting to be fit like the people on the cover of a magazine?

I guess the answer comes down to making your own personal decisions – doing your own research and deciding for yourself who to trust.

I sure wouldn’t appreciate it if someone told me I was ignorant when it comes to running, as I’m sure I’ve made some people feel when it comes to statements I’ve made surrounding our food supply in the past. No one is perfect, but understanding comes with experience and is a part of growing up.

I may not be running a marathon anytime soon (but I will say, training at 3,800 feet elevation would probably give me an advantage when running back home), but engaging in activities and other interests helps me learn more about my passions and maybe even new perspectives on the familiar subjects I’ve known my entire life.

Next time you engage in a conversation and view someone as ignorant because they should have known better, take a moment to consider the situation. Run a mile in their shoes and consider the other perspectives. Maybe they’re just looking for someone they can trust to simply, honestly tell them what they want to know.

Now about that tie in with food…. After that 10k today, I’m starved. Where’s the tacos?!?

Lessons I’ve learned while sticking my neck out

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This isn’t my normal kind of post but it’s something that I want to share. It seems like 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. If you’re willing to stick your neck out there to voice and opinion, especially on a site like CNN, you 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 agvocate.

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 talking about 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 their story and listen to their 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 are not true. As the people most directly connected to what our customers eat, we are the real experts. Sad part is, people believe the stories that are being told about us and it’s an uphill battle to fight first impressions.

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 honesty 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 messages 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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