Farmers are the best people for telling their own stories. So let us tell you a story about storytelling.
Once upon a time, three farmers from three different continents were recognized with the Global Farmer Network Kleckner Award for Global Farm Leadership.
This is a ‘real life’ story: The three of us were recently notified that we have been chosen to receive the 2021 award presented by the Global Farmer Network. We’re deeply honored by this recognition.
Although none of us knew Dean Kleckner, the award’s namesake, we’re involved in his legacy as we do what we can every day to share our stories from our farms. The mission of this international organization is to amplify and elevate the voices of farmers in public conversations about trade, technology, sustainable farming and more.
Using your voice means having something to say—and farmers never have needed to speak up more than they do right now. As the world population grows increasingly urbanized and technologically sophisticated, fewer people have farmers as friends. They know less than earlier generations about food production. Many of them have questions about who we are and what we do.
We need to tell them. Nobody can match our knowledge, experience, or authenticity.
Farmers understand that farming is difficult, but others don’t necessarily appreciate the challenges.
It starts with hard work. We pour our thought, resources, and energy into what we do. We invest our blood, sweat, and tears into each glass of milk, pound of pork, and wheat for pasta and bread.
To succeed in making food abundant and affordable, we need access to the best technologies and the freedom to buy and sell with customers around the world.
We also must show the rewards of farming: the food produced, the care taken of the soil and our animals, including what this business means for us, our families and the communities we live in.
The good news is that people are ready to believe us. A poll by the American Farm Bureau Federation last year showed that 88 percent of adults trust farmers. A time when confidence in major institutions is already low and sinking further, this level of trust is astonishing.
It means that one of the best tools we have for defending our industry is simply speaking up.
If we don’t speak up, others will try to do it for us—and when they do, they’ll attempt to put words in our mouths. Even if they mean well, they may not get the details right. They can cause inadvertent harm because they don’t know any better.
A bigger problem, though, is that those who speak up may not mean well.
Nature abhors a vacuum, but foes of modern agriculture adore it. When farmers are silent, they fill the quiet with their noise of ignorance, myths and misinformation. Farmers and food production suffer.
The immediate benefit of social media is that we can spread our messages to our network of friends and followers. They can ask us questions and we can respond by telling them about our farm, explaining what we do and why. Yet the opportunity of social media and the conversations it starts is much greater because it lets us go beyond our personal connections and reach large and influential audiences.
Reporters are always on the lookout for fresh perspectives, and often they go looking on social media. That’s how a journalist found one of us, who then appeared on a Dutch television program to discuss an aspect of farming.
At one point, during what could have become a heated exchange, a member of the audience shouted: “That’s @piggypower1,” referring to a Twitter handle. “She’s a good one!” The debate was over before it started.
On another occasion, one of us wrote a letter to the editor about how small farmers benefit from technology. After she promoted it on social media, the letter gained a wide audience—and in time it led to formal testimonies before both the House and Senate in Washington, D.C.
If that example shows how much we have to gain, it also shows how much we stand to lose. The Senate hearing, for example, featured eight panelists. Each one talked about farming.
Yet only one of the eight was a real farmer who could tell a true story from the front lines of food production.
In the halls of power, we must have a voice at the table. If we don’t speak up, though, nobody will listen.