June 9 2016 06:26 AM

Consumers will not hear what we have to say about the dairy industry unless we take the initiative and find ways to tell them.

By Hannah Thompson, communications director for Animal Agriculture Alliance

"To the consumer, our story doesn't exist unless we tell it."

Andrew Campbell
Dairy farmers always say the wisest things, don't they? The quote above was shared by Canadian dairy farmer Andrew Campbell when he spoke at the Animal Agriculture Alliance's Stakeholders Summit in early May. Andrew told our audience about his own experience with telling his story when he decided to post one photo a day from his farm on social media using the hashtag #Farm365.

What Andrew thought would be a fun experiment gained much more attention than he could have expected - both positive and negative. When animal rights activists began attacking Andrew and even threatening his home and family, the support of the agriculture community helped him fight through the noise to continue sharing his story. Despite the backlash from the activists, Andrew says he was "able to take that picture every day because the industry had [his] back."

I know "tell your story" isn't exactly new advice. But one thing that I took away from our summit is that there are so many different ways for all of us within agriculture to engage with others about our industry. As Andrew mentioned, he wouldn't have been able to be the public face of the #Farm365 campaign without others supporting him. If social media isn't your thing, maybe another example shared by a different dairy farmer at summit will appeal to you.

Joe Swyers
Joe Swyers, who operates a 1,100-cow dairy in New York, was alarmed last year when he learned that Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma was part of his daughter's 8th grade curriculum. Joe didn't have any luck talking with his daughter's teacher or principal about his concerns, so he convinced the school superintendent to give him a chance to offer the students another perspective of the food system by visiting their classroom and hosting a field trip to his farm. Joe shared how he believes his efforts made a difference with the students, teachers, and administrators who participated in his classroom visits and farm tours.

Hearing from both Andrew and Joe really brought home the point that consumers will not hear what we have to say about the dairy industry unless we take the initiative to step up and find ways to tell them. Whether it's using social media, visiting classrooms or something entirely different, it is up to all of us to find new ways to take action to secure the future of our industry. If you're interested in hearing more of our summit speaker's experiences and recommendations, you can view the recorded presentations by using this link.

How are you taking action for the dairy industry? Share on social media using #ActionPlease!

Hannah ThompsonThe author is communications director for Animal Agriculture Alliance, Arlington, Va. For more information on farm security and animal rights activism, visit the Animal Agriculture Alliance website at www.animalagalliance.org.