Capturing Hearts and Minds Across the Divide

I’ll the first person to tell you I was not born into a farming family and I have no long term experience in one particular aspect of agriculture; What I do know is that I have had a lifelong passion for it and along the way it has kindly adopted me.

As an ‘outsider’ looking at the bigger picture, I have to say I am truly amazed by what I see. The more people I encounter and the more I discover about Australian agriculture, the prouder I become.

Recent events, such as the Royal Easter show in Sydney, showcased some of the best the industry has to offer, whether it be the livestock, the produce and the incredible ‘Food Farm’ where people could actively explore the origins of their food and fibre. Art4Agriculture’s (www.art4agriculture.com.au) painted cows graced the entrance, as testament to the incredible work begun by Lynne Strong, collaborating with schools to create an awareness of farming’s contribution to our everyday lives.

A few weeks ago, several primary producers hatched  a brilliant and practical plan to assist the public in answering their queries on aspects of Australian agriculture. ‘Ask An Aussie Farmer’ is a group of  passionate spokespeople from differing enterprises  banding together to use social media to provide the non farming community with credible, first hand information on the diversity of the Primary Industries in this country.(Ask An Aussie Farmer can be found on Facebook and Twitter)

From observation, the site has already begun to make its mark, and people have been asking, and getting answers to their concerns as consumers. It is to be hoped that it truly makes its mark as a reflection of all the positive things that DO occur in agriculture.

There are so many good things occuring in agriculture, and so many of our  farmers have illustrated their committment towards producing high quality sustainable produce in the fields of food, feed and fibre. Using Social Media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the various blogging platforms such as WordPress and Blogger, connections can be made  readily, often between people who would have never come across each other before.

There is a geographical divide between where a lot of our food and fibre is produced. Consumers are not always aware of the origins of some of the most basic of their food items and many have never thought purposefully about the chain of events that occur between say a beast in the field and its arrival in the store in portions.

As a teacher, dealing with food and fibre, I am often suprised by the naivety of students in regards to the origins of their food. I don’t necessarily think it is out of a lack of concern; rather a lack of it at a conscious level in their everyday lives.

My concern  lies in the promotion of agriculture. There are some absolutely terrific efforts being made by many in the industry to ‘sell’ the importance of farming to the consumer. However, if you want consumers to take note, it is important to spend the time and develop relationships with the people whom you feel need to understand your position. It is human nature to tend to want to spend time with people of similar interests, lifestyle and values as yourself, but it is more of a challenge to seek out someone different, and to actively listen to their concerns.

Some of the best promoters I’ve seen are those that interract with the non farming public; people who    get to directly promote their product to the customer. It is in their  best interest to promote the virtues of their goods and listen intently to the customer and their needs. Commodities that may go through several steps along the value chain may be more of a challenge because the product may not resemble the original source eg. wheat that ultimately ends up in other products.

There is a lot of talk about the importance of farming to us all and the need for people to understand where their food comes from, but there is a need to create relationships that enhance the understanding. If people stand back and wait for the relationship to develop and the ‘divide’ to close then there will be a lot of waiting going on. Finding ways to meaningfully connect is the challenge.

With further understanding of the importance of agriculture by consumers, so does the possibility of further questioning of how well the job is being done. The ‘social licence to farm’ takes on a greater relevance as people pay greater concerns to the manner in which food is produced.

Strategies that help put the farming’s best foot forward are more timely than ever, and the challenge now is to march forward as a united front.