Lessons Learned Through Agricultural Conversations

This morning as I was reading a post from Agriculture Proud titled, “How to Lose an Argument on Food and Agriculture Topics,” and I just had to share it. In his post Ryan Goodman, the author of Agriculture Proud, included a quote from Darwin that really stuck with me:

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

Granted Darwin was probably referencing his theory on “survival of the fittest,” but I think being adaptable to change is an essential quality for all aspects of life, especially in agriculture. In Goodman’s post he talks about the lessons he has learned during failure and why people, who have the best intentions of advocating, lose arguments. He specifically relates the quote from Darwin to failing to engage in other conversations and seek out other perspectives, but I think the quote pertains to each of his points.

Goodman’s ten lessons learned during failure and reasons for losing an argument are:

1. Assuming science will give us the answers; it only gives us some of the answers.

2. Using economics as the justification for all of our practices.

3. Assuming that you have to speak up in defense of all agricultural practices.

4. Being reactive rather than proactive.

5. Assuming we can’t do better.

6. Attacking everyone who disagrees with you in a negative, critical manner.

7. Not being willing to listen because we are so busy responding.

8. Assuming that the lunatic fringe is the general public.

9. Assuming that because someone disagrees with you they are stupid, evil or both.

10. Not working to branch outside your comfort zone.

As I was reading these points I couldn’t help but think how true they are. As an agricultural enthusiast, I can look back to every argument I ever had and lost and relate at least one of these points to the reason for losing. We can’t know everything, and we are not going to come from the same background as the person we are in conversation with. But, if we take Darwin’s quote to heart, and work to be more adaptive, we can not only be more successful arguing a point, but also learn more along the way.

In the post, Goodman then goes on to talk about how we can approach controversial topics. He has multiple points, but a few of my favorites are: consider your own biases or confusion surrounding the issue; set a framework and objectives for the discussion that lead to engagement and consideration of opposing viewpoints; and at the end of a conversation summarize and reflect, then always leave the door open for follow-up conversations.

After reading this post, I hope to remember these lessons and become better at engaging in agricultural conversations while being open-minded to other perspectives. To read the full list of tips and expand on lessons learned, check out this post on Agriculture Proud.

Advocating isn’t always easy

I have dedicated the last four years of my academic career to agricultural communications, so I should be pretty comfortable advocating about agriculture, right?  Well, to be honest, it can be a little intimidating. I love talking about agriculture, but when a controversial topic comes up, it can be scary to let your voice be heard. While scrolling through Pinterest, I ran across a blog post by fifth generation livestock producer Emily Jackson.  Her blog, A Farm Girl’s Fight, is an outlet for her to tell the truths about agriculture from her livestock perspective. In this particular post titled, “To the Man Who Knows Me Better Than I Know Me,” she talks about her encounter with two PETA representatives at Texas Tech. Her bravery to speak up and even invite the man to visit her family’s farm is noteworthy.

The PETA representatives had a tent set up on campus where students were given free stuff if they made it through. Emily and her teammate walked through the tent and ended up spending an hour conversing with the two men. Here is an excerpt from her blog post:

Dave talked with us for a few minutes about farming practices. He tried to inform us that beating animals was a common practice, we told Dave that we were farmers and this was not true. About this time, a new wave of students came in. Dave and Austin both excused themselves from our delightful conversation to inform innocent students of PETA’s false scares and untruthful statistics.

Folks, I’m a relatively level-headed person. But I have a passion for agriculture and watching this man falsely accuse MY industry took anger management to a whole new level.

I stood up on my tippy toes, mustered my strength, quieted my anger, and yelled:

“I’m a farmer. If you have any questions about farms, ask me, not them.”

Two things then happened: 
        1. Dave and Austin got real mad.
        2. Two girls on opposite ends of the tents turned around and yelled “me too! This is ridiculous.”
        -Emily Jackson, A Farm Girl’s Fight
In the end, the PETA representatives didn’t agree with her, nor did they go to her farm. However, her story left me thinking about one great point: be part of the conversation. Maybe she didn’t change those representatives’s minds, but at least they now have had at least one positive conversation with a farmer, and maybe her voice was able to educate at least one other student in that tent. No matter what the conversation is about, there is always room for someone to criticize you. But isn’t it better to be part of the conversation and be criticized rather than stay quiet and let others be falsely informed?

 

        

Finding and coming to love Ag Comm

For many life moments and decisions, there is no cookie cutter path to follow nor is there one correct destination to come to. I have found that this is especially true throughout your collegiate career.

Like many students, I changed my mind a time or two about what I wanted to study.  I had vet school in mind, and later set my mind on Animal Sciences focusing on nutrition.  Then, a month before starting my Junior year, I met with my adviser and set my heart on Ag Comm.

Today, I couldn’t be happier with my decision, but hindsight is 20/20 and in the midst of making those big decisions it’s nice to know that other students also took a winding path toward Ag Comm (or whatever major they chose). In a blog post by Abigail Maurer, she shared her story of changing majors and why she chose Ag Comm. Like me, she took a winding path.

Abby talks about how she started in speech therapy, then switched to English education all before finding her passion in Agricultural Communication. And, her reason for studying Ag Comm is simple, “I love food. I love people. I love words. And that’s what ag comm is all about.”

As I continued to read her post, I also connected with her overall Purdue experience:

“But studying ag comm at Purdue is wonderful for more reasons than food, people and words.  In my major, I found the academic experience I always wanted college to be.  Classes that stimulated my mind and moved my heart.  Professors who cared about my life.  Friends with whom I could sit in classes and attend club meetings.”-Abigail Maurer

Being about a month away from graduation, I can’t imagine getting a degree in anything else, and I have loved my Purdue Ag Comm experience. I love learning about all aspects of agriculture, I love sharing stories about Ag, and I love that my major has taught me about communicating across a variety of platforms.

Being an Advocate

“Transparency is the answer. Even that will be attacked.” – Ryan Goodman, Agriculture Proud.

No matter what you are advocating for, it never seems to be easy. I am new to blogging, and putting my thoughts out there for everyone to read are often difficult. Even if the topic is not controversial. After reading “Lessons I’ve Learned While Sticking My Neck Out” by Ryan Goodman, it hit me that putting yourself out there, being honest and advocating for agriculture can still be difficult for people I would consider veteran advocates.

Ryan Goodman is the author of the blog titled, “Agriculture Proud.” According to Goodman, “Agriculture Proud is all about sharing the great story of those involved in all aspects of Agriculture.” It’s about telling your story, being authentic and excited about your passion for agriculture, and having a candid point of view, he says. Goodman’s articles have been used by news channels including CNN’s Eatocracy, and he has been a keynote speaker at various events such as AgChat Foundation conferences.

In his latest blog post, he notes that people will be quick to place judgement, especially on social media, and will leave some not so loving comments.  There are also a lot of stories out there about agriculture, some positive and some negative. Yes, we might get kicked in the shin by someone, but if we don’t talk about our experiences in agiculture, then who will?

As a young communicator, writer and advocate I found it extremely inspiring that even though he has faced cruel people and angering stories, Ryan Goodman continues to be a voice for agriculture. I wanted to share these words with you from Goodman’s blog:

“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… 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.”

I encourage you to check out Goodman’s blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and YouTube.