What started out as a few organizations training producers on how to address Congress on policy issues has turned into a crusade to put a face on agriculture and educate consumers.
These grassroots efforts are offering real solutions for everyday people to get involved, says John Buck, a third-generation farmer in Ohio. He's formed TurnKey Leadership Group to help train farmers (www.turnkeyleadership.org) on reaching out to their communities.
“We know farmers are not the best marketers of themselves,” Buck says. “We want them talking to their communities, building relationships — before the attacks come. We want the personal connections to be there when those things do happen so there is a better chance for a balanced story.”
His group creates custom-tailored programs for both individuals and businesses on topics ranging from leadership training to communications.
“If every person involved in agriculture talked even once a year to a group of people in their community like the Lion's Club or Rotary Club or PTA, we would be doing what we've all talked about for years,” he adds. “We in agriculture need a unified message.”
MORE TRAINERS IN motivating and speaking out for ag have cropped up in recent years than ever before. Troy and Stacy Hadrick founded Advocates for Agriculture (www.advocatesforag.com) after their own negative experience with a reporter. These fifth-generation ranchers from South Dakota now talk to groups about how to communicate with the media, how to tell your story and more.
“We're giving a voice to the people who feed the world and building connections between the farm gate and the consumer plate,” says Michele Payn-Knoper, who leads interactive workshops for food, farm and ag audiences and is a pro at social media outreach. Her Cause Matters Corporation workshops cover tips on ag advocacy, techniques for social networking, overcoming activist claims and more. She also blogs about issues relating to championing agriculture (www.mpk.info; http://causematters.wordpress.com).
“I help those in agriculture understand how to speak the language of consumers and other influencer groups,” Payn-Knoper adds. “Agriculture needs to take action and reach out to the 98.5% of the population not on the farm.”
In addition to this relatively new crop of leaders, more traditional programs are still going strong. The American Soybean Association and National Corn Growers Association still partner with sponsors like Syngenta, DuPont and others to train future leaders of the organizations.
American Farm Bureau provides leadership development programs for its members. The “We Care” initiative supported by the Pork Checkoff helps pork producers tell their story. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Masters of Beef Advocacy Program assists cattle producers become spokespeople for the industry. Some corporations even provide top customers with presentation and media training.
“These are all great programs, but we wondered what happens after you get the training?” asks Ohio's Buck. After he had been through more than five leadership programs, he realized there was little follow up. So he helped launch the Grassroots Speakers Bureau (www.grassrootsspeaker.com) to connect these newly trained leaders to community groups looking for speakers.
“It's an online clearing house resource for those who can speak about agriculture,” he says. “We want people to move from workshop participation to community involvement. This resource helps make connections to make that happen.”
Check out the resources mentioned here. Then, get out there and get involved.