Melanie ConsCanadian Farm News

Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Josh Kraemer, CFFO Communications Intern

Last week was the Farm and Food Care Ontario Speakers Program, which focused on public conversations about agriculture. Keynote speaker Tamar Haspel described how to reach out to the public in ways that spark people’s interest and encourage engagement in meaningful discussion. Connecting with a public audience is a skill that seems to be at a premium in today’s conversations surrounding agriculture.

Haspel is an oyster farmer in Cape Cod, as well as a journalist for the Washington Post. She opened by reminding the audience that before engaging in a potentially polarizing conversation it is important to remember that many people allow their passions to overcome their ability to reason with others.

So, when farmers are talking to the public about agriculture it is important to understand that people persuade people. Most people are more inclined to open their mind to someone that they trust, and that’s why the emotional side of a conversation is so important. The way a conversation is approached and the ability to connect with people is often just as important as communicating information. Simple things like driving a big truck and hunting allowed Haspel to connect with other farmers when she was working as a journalist. Shared pastimes or values can be good connecting points between the public and farmers.

It’s easy to take the high ground on a discussion topic that one is well versed in, but as Haspel explained, this can easily sound like a condescending tone and fast-track the conversation to nowhere. Instead, be that person they can trust. Sometimes it may not be possible to change someone’s mind right away, but it is possible for them to be shown that there might be more to farming than they had previously thought. If there are going to be better conversations around agriculture, the public needs to have a better understanding of farming values.

Farmers also need to do their best to remove themselves from their own biases. Understanding others people’s experiences and learning from them is important for engaging in a productive conversation. By listening to other points of view and taking the right approach, farmers can create an open discussion that encourages new ideas and fosters a positive relationship between agriculture and the public.

Haspel encourages farmers to go out and invite a local classroom to the farm for a field trip or share some interesting and fun videos on social media. Most people get their information from a computer screen and many urban residents have never been able to visit a farm or stand beside a dairy cow. It’s easy for people to be swept up in the sensationalized reports that they see on social media. If we can change our emotional responses, we can have better conversations.