Almost every co-op meeting, checkoff organization conference, or dairy industry event includes a speaker or breakout session about telling our story, and for good reason. If we don't show the world what happens on our dairy farms, someone else will try to do it for us.
Often those advocacy sessions focus on telling our story through social media. Again, there's a good reason why. Social media gives us access to a nearly limitless audience.
I always say that I can't give farm tours to thousands of people on a regular basis. There's not enough time in a day to host daily tours and get chores done. Plus, very few people want to visit my farm in the dead of winter. Social media lets me share my farm and my life 365 days a year.
But social media should not replace in-person advocacy.
In-person advocacy can be as simple as chatting with the person sitting next to you on the airplane (Talk about a captive audience!) or as formal as speaking in public about dairy farming.
I was reminded of the importance of advocating in person earlier this month. Three other dairy farmers and I participated in a panel discussion about farming at a food bloggers event in New York City. After the panel, the most common response I heard was, "That was the best part of this event. I wish we could have had more time to continue the conversation."
When we tell our story in person, we convey passion and emotion that are difficult to put into words or images on a screen. When someone can hear in our voice just how much we love what we do, they can feel our message, not just see it.
Furthermore, in-person advocacy makes it so much easier to have an open dialogue about farming.
When someone asks a question on a social media platform, we have to interpret that question without the help of facial expressions, body language, and vocal intonation. In short, we have to figure out if they're asking a question out of honest curiosity or if they're trying to cause a stir.
Questions asked in person give us so many more cues. Answering in person allows us to be more candid. These in-person conversations also make it easier to check understanding and explain more if necessary.
Most importantly, in-person advocacy gives us a chance to form real connections to people who want to learn more about farming. When somebody "knows" a real farmer, they're whole perception of agriculture shifts.
Keep sharing your story through social media, but don't overlook opportunities to advocate in person.
The author is a dairy farmer and writer from central Minnesota. She farms with her husband, Glen, and their three children. Sadie grew up on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in agricultural communications and marketing. She also blogs at Dairy Good Life.