I had the opportunity to speak to a large and engaging group of farmers and industry people at this year’s FarmTech in Edmonton. It was my first FarmTech and it was a great experience!
The title of the presentation was The Art and Science of the Ag and Food Conversation. It combined some mythbusting with a bit of ‘landscape analysis’ of our often convoluted conversational spaces around ag and food. Human cognitive habits figured in there heavily (see my blog post on this). I conducted a live poll (via Poll Everywhere) during both sessions and folks were kind enough to participate. Here is a summary of the combined results from both sessions.
Almost everyone (95%+) in the audience(s) participates in ag and food conversations and quite often (not surprising, given the audience). Eighty-five percent (85%) of voters said that they have had an experience where things got “ugly” in an ag and food conversation. This speaks to the ‘complex conversational terrain’ (as I refer to it) that agvocates have to deal with and, of course, to the growing ag industry image problem.
And… it turns out that Twitter is KING (according to @MichealWipf) in terms of preferred social media platforms (see graph below). Tweet on!!!
I often bring up another related issue: common misconceptions about who the experts really are out there. In the polling results, ‘false experts / celebrities’ came out as #1 with 63% of the votes as primary sources of misinformation. There are many examples of psuedo-experts out there: Dr. Oz, Joseph Mercola, Pam Anderson (the “large animal expert”). For the record, quite a few people commented that an “all of the above” option on the poll would have been useful. My bad. That’s the hazards of developing surveys ‘on the fly’ sans peer review. Anyway, had I included it I suspect that most, if not all, responses would have wound up in that category.
Some of the most difficult conversations I have ever had about ag and food has been with close friends and family. When things are personal, it can get difficult for some of us. According to the poll results of our audience(s) at FarmTech, votes were split across ‘family/friends’, ‘acquaintances’, and ‘online people.’
One of the biggest struggles that most people have is (quickly) finding reliable information to clarify or confirm information and to find sources in response to questions. Having followed ‘contentious ag issues’ for some time, I find that there are MORE than enough good sources out there (I’ve inventoried some links to good sources here and here). The problem is that these sources are so widely distributed across different platforms (internet and social media) and organizations and not always easy to find through a Google search. In my opinion, we need an online searchable platform that allows users to search according to different parameters (eg. terms, contents, videos, themes, etc); a platform that can link to the best, most credible sources out there without getting ‘muddied’ by the all the other ‘junk information.’
When I am stuck and not sure where to find information from good sources, I turn to my colleagues in agriculture and/or science. And it appears that many of the folks at FarmTech do too.
As we move forward with our conversations, we need to stay informed. We need to do research and we need to choose our words wisely. What we say is not near as important as how we say it. We need to claim the conversational space in a way that makes sense for us as individuals (online, at church, at the hockey rink, around a bonfire or at the dinner table). And we need to connect with people’s values and meet them on common ground. This is important in developing new narratives around ag and food. No matter what our individual expertise or knowledge is, or how or in what way we contribute to the conversation…