Claps, Cheers, and a Little Hallelujah: Reflections Upon Ag Issues Forum 2014
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
When I was asked to be a part of Bayer CropScience’s Ag Issues Forum, I leapt at the chance. A few days in sunny San Antonio, talking about Ag and hearing about hot topics from experts in the field (pardon the pun).
However, as the date approached, I became nervous. I was just a blogger. I’m just a blogger, a newbie farm wife in a sea of more knowledgeable women who would probably give more polished answers to questions concerning GMOs and biotechnology. I would be sitting in front of the folks whom I respected deeply, as a panelist, an expert (kind of) in writing in social media. And these are people with degrees in writing and communication. Nerves crept in as the days approached. I wondered why I was chosen as I am NOT an expert in anything, except maybe shoes.
But neither my expertise in the perfect pump, nor my lack of expertise in the field of agriculture was why I was invited to the Forum.
My place on the panel of bloggers was to be the voice in Ag that wasn’t agricultural, even though my address is on a rural route.
Armed with a few writing samples, fresh off a briefing with our moderator (Frank Sesno, who is AMAZING), and wearing a new dress, I marched confidently into the convention center.
Seated in the back of the room, as to be inconspicuous, my husband and I listened intently as Frank opened the session. As he introduced Julie Borlaug, a lot of “umm, hmms,” and “wows” were heard. She is of the Borlaug legacy. As in Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, who changed the face of agriculture on a global scope with…gasp…a GMO!
Julie spoke with conviction, sparking lots of laughter in the audience as she recapped her experience at an “all organic, all natural” dinner party for her daughter. She challenged the group of journalists to use her grandfather’s innovations and legacy to combat all the bad press GMOs are getting. She was truly inspiring.
I may have even shouted out an “Amen” or two during her time on stage.
My husband was mortified.
However, as I sat through the next segment, nerves crept in again. The men sitting there were experts in water conservation, corporate relations in agriculture and farm managing. While fascinating, it was nerve wracking.
As we broke for a few moments, I made a command decision. I wasn’t going to get up there and try to be anything I wasn’t. I would interject and be funny and be loud (three things I do quite well…as my husband might tell you). The other two panelists offered expertise in blogging, having been published on the Eatocracy blog on cnn.com for Brian Scott, and Annie Shultz had over 20,000 followers. However, they weren’t me. They weren’t sharing their play-by-play while tackling issues that come up in agriculture.
When we hit the stage, I felt a wave of acceptance and calm embrace me. The journalists were genuinely engaged, clapping as we spoke out about HSUS, yelling out when we addressed a popular chain restaurant’s new campaign, Farmed and Dangerous, and asking question after question about how we gained followers to how we know what to write about.
It was, in a word, exhilarating.
These professionals, these folks who I was initially intimidated by, were embracing us. Cheering, clapping and I may have heard a “hallelujah” as we addressed the Food Wars.
Maybe I was delirious with awesomeness at that time.
This forum is exactly what Ag needs - not just for journalists, but for everyone -grabbing experts and pairing them with newbies. Conducting over a dozen post-panel interviews was challenging, but when you’re made to talk about why you’re telling your story, you really hone your skill as an advocate. Being interviewed by a former CNN White House correspondent isn’t too shabby, either. He had a way of pulling out what I wanted to say instead of having me sit there and flounder.
But the panel and the questions and the big names isn’t just why this forum is important. This forum is exactly what Big Ag needs. Big Ag is a dirty word in mainstream media, and I have had to address this as a blogger with friends who watch day-time talk shows, read the blogs, and hear the buzz words. But, as a player in the Big Ag game, Bayer CropScience is taking a risk putting all these journalists in a room and pairing them with average Joes and Janes to debate and discuss the issues agriculture faces today. This risk to open up to the media and others is opening the lines of communication to those who are the communicators. Bayer CropScience not only allowed us to tell our story, but shared the innovations they were making, allowing us to get excited about the Bee Care initiative, specifically.
It was my great honor and pleasure to be a panelist during Ag Issues Forum. I am excited to tell my story from the experience. Allowing me this professional outlet amongst other key players in agriculture was a game changer for me as a communicator and advocate for agriculture.
In short, it was awesome.
About Emily Webel
Emily Webel is relatively new to the agricultural scene, but don’t let that fool you. Agriculture has been a part of her entire life; she just chose to ignore it until her life plan to live in the city was interrupted.
But fast-forward several years and four children later, now Webel is involved in agricultural advocacy at all levels. Actively involved in Illinois Farm Families, Emily has been able to sit down with urban consumers and answer questions, quell fears and create relationships with consumers and moms. Webel also has been able to speak to different community groups on behalf of agriculture. While Webel is not a tractor-driving, calf-pulling farm wife, she watches her husband Joe care lovingly for his 150 Simmental-Angus cattle herd.
More information on Emily Webel:
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org