Shifting Strategies

I have spent the last four years learning how to effectively tell agriculture’s story, with a special concentration on the animal agriculture industry. During these four years, I have witnessed the passing of Prop 2 in California, the introduction of HR 3798 which would make Prop 2 federal, the rise of HSUS and a gradual loss of consumer trust in the animal agriculture industry. At times, I wondered if my plan to educate the public on the animal agriculture industry would even be an option when I graduated, or if agricultural communicators would have moved on by this point. Fortunately, agricultural communicators haven’t given up, and neither have I.

These past couple of months, I have begun to realize that we need to utilize more tactics when sharing our message with consumers. When farmers and ranchers are asked why they raise their animals or produce their crops the way they do, they tend to get defensive and respond with statements beginning with “The science says” or “This method is proven.” We will talk for hours about how the methods we use are the best because of the research behind them, assuming the public will respect the science because it is proven. But, as Theodore Roosevelt once stated, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

All the consumer really wants to know is that the way the products they are buying in the store was actually safe and, in the case of animal agriculture, that the animal was not treated poorly at any point throughout its life. As agriculturalists, we know that the majority of producers are good people and that their personal values would not allow them to do anything unsafe or abusive. We know this to be true, but organizations such as HSUS and PETA have convinced the public that all American agriculturalists are trying to do is make a quick dollar without an regard for the safety of the product or the consumers.

How do we fix this huge misconception? We let the public know how much we care.

Instead of farmers and ranchers throwing the science to the public, we need to convince them to share their values and their personal stories. Values drive every decision agriculturalists make each day and if the public understood this, their decisions at the grocery store and voting booths might be different. Consumers tend to forget that farmers and ranchers are feeding their families the same food they are producing for the consumer. If we can simply remind the public of these values, they will be able to put their trust back in American Agriculture.

Learning How to Affect Change

Just when you think you have “agvocacy” figured out, you go on a trip to Sacramento and your mind is blown.

During my last quarter here at Cal Poly, I have been lucky enough to take an agricultural public policy class. All quarter, movers and shakers in California Agriculture have come into our class and hashed out the issues affecting our industry. Over the past eight weeks, my classmates and my knowledge on labor, immigration, air quality, invasive pasts and communicating the agricultural message has grown exponentially. For two hours twice a week, I got to sit down and learn about the industry I love. It has been fantastic.

The capstone to the class was a trip to Sacramento. The trip was organized by Cal Poly alum, George Soares, whose law firm, Kahn, Soares and Conway, represents the majority of the California agriculture industry. There is no better workhorse for agriculture than Mr. Soares. Mr. Soares is proactive in educating people on agriculture issues and making sure that agriculture is always fairly represented. Simply getting to spend time with Mr. Soares is an inspiration.

From Sunday night to Tuesday morning, we visited with lobbyists, legislators, the head of the Department of Pesticide Regulation, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and many more important people. I feel so lucky that these important people took time out of their very busy days to speak with us, all with the belief that we too would be working for the agriculture industry very soon.

Of course, we had to prove that we had been absorbing the information all quarter. Monday night we visited the California Farm Bureau Federation, where we gave group presentations on issues affecting California agriculture to Cal Poly alumni and more than a few parents of myself and my classmates (I got to see my parents for the first time since March! It was great!). My group was charged with educating the group on issues in the California dairy and poultry industries. We approached the issue from a values standpoint- we explained both the scientific and values reasons behind decisions made every day in animal agriculture. If we can convince the public that we all have the same values when it comes to animal welfare, the public will respect the practices in place in the animal agriculture industry (I have a feeling I will be writing an entire blog on this topic this weekend :)).

During our last meeting today, I began to realize that it is possible to make a difference for agriculture on a public policy level. So often we only hear about the losses agriculture experiences, but in reality, people are working hard everyday to preserve agriculture in many more ways than we realize. It’s true that the majority of votes in the State Senate and House of Representatives come from urban centers who don’t care about agriculture and don’t understand its many facets. But people are working everyday to educate them, and strong relationships are being formed.

Mr. Soares is a great example of a person who is reaching out to the urban decision makers and making a difference. I’m not completely sure how the relationship began, but somehow Mr. Soares formed a strong relationship with Gil Cedillo, the Assemblymember from the 45th District, or downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Cedillo deals with education, gangs, drugs and violence in his district. Mr. Soares reached out to Mr. Cedillo and gained his support on a water bond that was begin put together. Later, Mr. Soares brought Mr. Cedillo out to the Soares Dairy in Hanford, where Mr. Cedillo was able to speak with workers, watch daily operations and drive a corn chopper. Because of Mr. Soares’ effort to make a difference, agriculture gained an ally in Gil Sedillo.

If we work hard enough, we can make a difference. It is possible to affect change for agriculture on a public policy issue, though it doesn’t always seem that way. But if we go beyond the law offices and beyond the Senate floor and get decision makers into the heart of agriculture, we can gain allies and protect agriculture.

One-Way Ticket on an East Bound Plane

I have the job, I pretty much have a place to live and I just booked the one-way ticket.

Things just got REAL.

I am so excited. I’m so excited I’m incorporating 90s song lyrics into my life (I think my version is better Leann). A mere 11 days after I graduate college and 35 days from today, I say goodbye to the family, hope on a plane and head to Minneapolis.

After I bought my ticket this afternoon (with my own money! I’m getting so mature.) I literally felt a little shaky. I have no idea what June 20 will bring. Even when I left for college I had visited San Luis Obispo a few times, so I at least knew what the city looked like. Minneapolis, I hope you are as fantastic as this Google Image suggests.

So, plane ticket purchased. No going back now. We’ll see how far I can go!

 

 

[Take that Leann Rimes]

Success!!

This California girl is moving to the MidWest. Yes, it finally happened- I found a job! On Tuesday morning I accepted a graduate internship with Broadhead Communications in Minneapolis. This is a great opportunity that will teach me a lot about agriculture, communicating about agriculture and, of course, life. About ten days after I graduate I will be heading out into the unknown.

I still don’t think it has all sunk in. I mean, the senioritis has gotten about twelve times worse (what do tests even prove, really?), but I still don’t think the fact that I have a job after graduation has become real yet. I’ll be sitting in class and suddenly remember, and of course I get a smile on my face, but the same thing will happen again four hours later. I kinda like how excited I still get about it.

I think it will probably hit home when I find somewhere to live, book my one-way ticket to the Twin Cities and ship boxes full of my life away. So for now, I’ll just sit back, try to fend off the worst of the senioritis and enjoy my last month of college, knowing that come June 9, I’ll know exactly what I will be doing!

Have any advice on living on the MidWest for this woefully uninformed California girl? Please share!