Category Archives: Better Blogging

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.

Why Invest in Social Media? Ask One Question

I’ve had the awesome opportunity to work on social media training with many individual farmers and ranchers as well as guest speaking at several events during the past several years. One of the most frequent challenges folks often face when trying to justify the investment into social media can be boiled down to just one question… “WHY?”

Image via
Image via

I always suggest planning out a social media strategy should begin with sitting down to draw out a road map. Who is your audience? What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals? But this week, I found a good article in my feeds that summed it up pretty well.

Win With Social Media Marketing By Answering One Question | WebPro Business

The thing that really needs to be nailed down when it comes to blogging or any other social media effort, is the answer to this most important question:


Before you dismiss this as obvious, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a group of smart, accomplished marketers just assume the person in charge of the directive has a well informed answer to “why”.

If you’re a social media marketer, content marketer, copywriter or in another role where blogging is part of your responsibility, try to start asking “why” when you receive directives related to growing community, affecting a certain kind of traffic or other key performance indicator.

If you get a reasonable answer, then you’ll have better context to achieve the goal. If you don’t, then it’s an opportunity to collect the information necessary to make your efforts more productive for you, the company and the audience you’re targeting.

There are several ways to approach this, but one of the most straightforward schemes for asking and managing the “why” is through a cycle of hypothesis, implementation and optimization.

Visit the article to read more - Win With Social Media Marketing By Answering One Question


The author gets a little technical, but I think he makes some great points, but it certainly helps my strategy on a daily basis as I work with ranchers here in Montana. I continually find myself asking how we can make the best use of social media to market folks who don’t always understand the value of it.

Too often we can get wrapped up in what WE love to do and misplace our focus on our objective for investing time online. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of how some many issues can be refocused with a question as simple as “Why?”.

Read more of my posts with social media tips in Better Blogging.

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2014 AgChat Foundation Regional Conference – Portland

Hashtag sign
In case you don’t know about #Hashtag, click here for the video with Jimmy and Justin.

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon for the 2014 AgChat Foundation Regional Conference. The 2-day Conference is a smaller scale of our national conference (2014 national location to be announced soon!) and is a great opportunity for folks on a beginner level to get a more intimate opportunity to learn about the tools of social media. Portland is a rather food-centric city compared to much of the U.S. and provided a great opportunity for farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest to gain some awareness of food conversations around them.

In case you’re not aware of the work of the AgChat Foundation – AgChat is a non-profit that works to give farmers and ranchers the tools to engage with customers in food conversations. This includes tips on how to approach difficult conversations and learning how to utilize social media platforms to engage in those conversations. Learn more about AgChat at or join the weekly Twitter chat – Tuesdays, 5-7 p.m. Pacific by using the hashtag #agchat.

On Thursday night, we had the opportunity to breakout and travel to several food establishments across the Portland area. My group went to Bob’s Red Mill where we learned more about the history of this local, family owned grain processor. Red Mill produces many flours, cereals, grain and baking ingredients from raw grains, products that encourage consumers to utilize more basic ingredients in their home kitchens. It’s interesting to see how rapidly the company is expanding and outgrowing their facilities. Their most rapidly growing product line is gluten-free where the Mill uses many various grains (excluding wheat) to produce flours and baking ingredients for customers who want to remove wheat products from their diets.

Bob's Red Mill Portland Product Line

Bob’s is making progress in their GMO-free labeling with the Non-GMO project. We asked why they are pursuing the labeling program when so many of their grains are not even available in GM varieties. Bob’s staff say they believe that the consumer is always right which is why they are pursuing this line. It was really cool to see the diversity of products in Bob’s line up. They emphasized the importance on a record of food safety and cleanliness, not only in their facilities, but also in their suppliers and transport.

Side note: I wonder why a company would spend money labeling products, fueling consumer concerns about products that are not even available in GM (ex. There is no such thing as GM oats. SO what’s the use in labeling oats as GMO-free?). Providing accurate information about how grains are grown and the availability of GM foods falls on everyone from the producer to the retailer. There are times when the consumer is not right. Excess labels dilutes the impact of labeling and make us lazy.

That being said, kudos to Bob’s for listening to consumers and taking a voluntary approach to labeling their product lines, something that really shouldn’t be required by government policies.

Workshops on Friday morning included tips for using Facebook, Twitter, blogging platforms, Pinterest, Instagram and more. Attendees also had the opportunity to learn how to handle difficult conversations and negativity in a workshop with Marie Bowers. I presented about measuring your impact online and gave several tips/tools on how to gauge your effectiveness. Many of the suggestions I gave centered around paying attention to what your audience is currently reading and returning to the topics that engage your audience. Consistency and Listening are always important when it comes to drawing and retaining an audience for the messages you want to share online.

Montana ranchers attending the AgChat Foundation social media training in Portland
Montana ranchers had a great crew to represent the state while we were in Portland!

The conference went great and it was awesome to see a few days of green in the middle of winter. Considering I’ve seen snow since October, I found a little surprise in just how green Portland is at the end of January. As with any trip in the middle of winter from Montana, my flights were delayed in both directions. On the trip out of Helena, we sat on the plane for 3 hours while the crews tried to thaw frozen brakes. On the way back, we had to sit at Great Falls while crews plowed the runway, which wasn’t plowed when we landed and created quite a white scene with a few inches of fresh snow. Getting to the airport at 5 a.m. on Thursday and landing at almost 1 a.m. Saturday morning made for a few long days.

One benefit of traveling during the winter in Montana. Check out that view at the Helena airport!
One benefit of traveling during the winter in Montana. Check out that view at the Helena airport!

Despite all that, it was a great trip and I hope everyone involved had a great time learning more about these conversation tools while in Portland! Check out more photos from the conference on Facebook!

Montana ranchers attending the AgChat Foundation social media training in Portland
Generations working together to learn more about Social Media platforms.

Montana ranchers attending the AgChat Foundation social media training in Portland

The breakout crew at Bob's Red Mill
The breakout crew at Bob’s Red Mill
Bob's Red Mill Portland
Learning more about the grain processing and product lines at Bob’s

Bob's Red Mill Portland

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Engaging in Food Conversations – 6 principles to aid in the learning process

principles of learning
Image via ecology of education

I was sitting in class before church services this past Sunday and the question came up, “What is a Disciple?” It’s someone who engages in learning more in-depth about a subject, a follower of certain teachings, or an apprentice of a trade. I think many of us are disciples in a sense, choosing to constantly learn more about subjects of our liking.

This won’t become a sermon on the blog, though I will include a number of reference verses at the bottom if you’d like to follow-up, but rather I was thinking how much this applies to the agriculture and food dialogues I engage in so frequently.

Learning is a process. What is the best way to learn? Everyone has their own approach. When are we most receptive to learning? Each has their own interests peaked in a different manner. Who engages us most in learning? We all respond to different teaching styles. How can that student-teacher relationship best be utilized? Understanding and Application of the process works differently for each situation.

Engaging in conversations about food and agriculture can be uncomfortable for many farmers and ranchers. It pushes some of us out of our comfort zone, past the normal topics raised in our circle of friends and neighbors. Social media can make engaging in these conversations even more daunting because the internet seems to void the filter for what some folks may spout off in response to a statement they dislike.

What makes this situation even more cumbersome is when we encounter someone unwilling to listen, learn, or even consider that there may be some truths to our side of the situation. Sometimes we have to be patient and identify when the opportunity arises for a good learning experience.

6 Principles of the learning process

Readiness – Individuals learn best only when they are ready to learn, when there is reason and interest in learning. If there is no reason for learning, they probably won’t. The best learning occurs when we are ready, willing and open to learning.

Exercise – The things repeated most often are best remembered. Repetitive nature allows us to improve. Once you have learned something, you need to practice it. Continually working and practicing the things I need to learn and know. Correction, training, repetition.  Mistakes will be made, but we must continue striving to learn.

Primacy – The thing first learned is often the best retained, instructors must teach things correctly the first time. The instructor must explain the subjects so that we can understand. There has to be a balance to it. Of course, instructors may be held to a higher standard of judgement.

Effect – Learning is weakened when the experience is unpleasant. A student learns best when the experience is pleasant and satisfying. A positive environment allows information to be best retained. Afflictions are temporary and understanding the reward improves retention. We also have a responsibility in the community to gratify, lift each other up, mentor, and encourage others along the way. Testing of Faith builds endurance.

Intensity – The student learns more doing the “real thing” versus simulation. Oh, how this is SO applicable to food and agriculture conversations! Applied instruction is the best way to learn. The person doing the explaining needs to engage and reinforce principles in a meaningful way. Also, you’ll retain most on the subjects that you must learn to explain.

Recency- The thing most recently learned will be the thing most learned. Time usually diminishes what has been learned. Exercise and revisiting issues improves learning. An example of this would be trying to recall what you remember from a class/workshop two weeks ago versus a month ago. We must continually go back and refresh ourselves on the materials covered.


Everyone has their own theory on how we best learn and I am sure there are several more Principles of Learning you can add to this list. I just thought these were pretty applicable to the advocacy I so often talk about on this blog.

When you engage in a conversation with someone, be it online or in-person, keep these principles in mind to help you identify if they are ready and willing to learn and how you both may best go about that process. These are also good reminders as you work to learn more about agriculture and try to stay on top of your game in the world of information that surrounds us today.

Let’s face it though – there are many people in social media who are not ready or open to learning something that goes against what they have already chosen to believe. Don’t focus on the loudest voices in the crowd, but rather look for those who are open to the conversation.

Scriptures on learning

In case you were interested, here are the verses that were shared along with many of these principles in the class.

  • Ephesians 4:20 – come to know Christ
  • Matthew 11:28-30 – learn how to do something, apply the principles He is talking about
  • Matthew 7:28-29 – teaching His authority, amazing the people
  • Matthew 10:24 – student-teacher relationship
  • Hebrews 4:12-14 – understanding and application. Word is only as good as the person who hears it and applies what they hear.
  • I Corinthians 3:1-3 – teaching the word is not enough, make an effort to grow, transform and renew.
  • II Corinthians 4:3-4 – Self gets in our way of being ready to learn.
  • II Timothy 3:14-17 – you have learned this, you have practiced this.
  • John 1:14, 17 – full of grace and truth.
  • James 3 – instructors to a higher standard of judgement.
  • Galatians 5:22-25, James 1:2-4 – the Spirit is gratifying and satisfying.