A Guy Walks into a Sorority Meeting…
Thursday, September 14, 2017
“We need someone to spend an afternoon in Columbus to talk about Bayer’s AgVocate program with Sigma Alpha sorority,” read the email request.
My hand immediately went up, and the ribbing from my colleagues followed shortly thereafter. “Of course you’d volunteer for that” was the general tone from my work “friends.”
But I knew immediately what a unique and fun opportunity this would be. See, Sigma Alpha is a professional sorority for women in agriculture dedicated to fostering the next generation of leaders in agriculture. I have only been involved with agriculture for a few years, but the one thing that struck me immediately about this industry is the significant number of strong, ambitious and accomplished women leading it. It has been one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about working in Ag, and I knew I had to spend time with a group that’s working to continue to grow that legacy.
During our afternoon together, we shared our experiences discussing agriculture with people outside the industry, and we talked about the challenges that arise from the disconnect between farmers and consumers. That disconnect fosters misinformation, generates confusion and breeds distrust in the agriculture. Consistently, this disconnect is one of the biggest challenges growers tell us they face.
Bayer created the AgVocate program to help farmers and producers learn how to close this gap, understand consumer concerns and share their stories.
Sigma Alpha is hoping to take these skills back to their chapters to better prepare their members for their future as Ag’s next leaders. During the session, we focused on ways to establish common ground and build trust, not argue. I was particularly intrigued during my discussion with this impactful group because of the potential Sigma Alpha holds to involve more diverse voices, from women, young people and more, in the next generation of Ag. Those perspectives will be essential to continuing to innovate and provide our industry with the necessary tools to feed a growing world sustainably with abundant, nutritious food. And, as I mentioned, these women are fierce, and they are both passionate and informed. We discussed a number of thought-provoking possibilities that further affirmed my enthusiasm for Sigma Alpha joining us to #AgVocate for modern Ag and for the reach and influence they will have in expanding the discussion.
All in all, we all walked away from the jam-packed session with a renewed sense of purpose and a greater appreciation for the need to unite our voices. If you’re interested in doing a similar training for your organization, give us a shout. Until then, I’ll leave you with five of my best tips for AgVocating, and be sure to check out these ten steps to guide your AgVocacy efforts.
- Listen, listen, listen.
This is often the most difficult when you get into a conversation about something as personal and passionate as agriculture is to most farmers, but taking the time to listen has many benefits. It shows you care about what the other person is saying, it helps you better understand where they are coming from, and it allows you time to collect your thoughts.
- Be sympathetic and understanding.
In survey after survey, consumers express all types of concern about food and how it is produced. They’re concerned about nutrition, safety and environmental impact. It is critical to know that these concerns are real, valid and worthy of our attention. Be sympathetic to them.
Find common ground.
Share an intense love for the Chicago Cubs? Enjoy spending family vacations on a cruise ship? Have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to perfecting pickle-making? All of us are a lot more than simply what we do for a living. Explore your various interests and connect with others who share them. Through common ground, you can build up trust with others that can translate into an understanding of your work in agriculture.
- Know your stuff.
Misinformation on food and agriculture abounds. It. Is. The. Worst. It’s no wonder why people are confused and don’t trust any of it. Take the time to learn more about agriculture and especially what reputable sources you can direct people to in order to learn more on their own. Maybe just as important, know what you don’t know. If someone raises a question you don’t know the answer to, take some time to learn together.
- Be yourself.
Ultimately, people are looking for authenticity. People genuinely trust farmers and want to hear more from them, so tell your story and make a connection!
Have any other tips from conversations you’ve found yourself in? Share them down in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!