Author encourages farmers to engage consumers: ‘Sometimes people just want to know why’

PaynEarly in her keynote remarks at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation 2018 Annual Convention, author Michele Payn asked 700 farmers for a show of hands.

“How many people in this room are willing to admit they hate social media?”

Assessing a fair number of raised hands, Payn nodded. “OK, good. Get over it.”

Social media, she explained, is one place that vocal, organized critics of modern agriculture have been building their voices—and audiences—for years. And American farmers, she added, need to be speaking up as well.

All those cell phone photos of healthy animals, well-tended farmland and members of farm families? “Take them off your phone, and put them on Instagram. … It takes less than 10 minutes” and gives an accurate depiction of the nation’s farms and food production.

It also invites conversations. And those, Payn emphasized, are key.

Payn is the author of Food Truths from Farm to Table and No More Food Fights! Growing a Productive Farm & Food Conversation. She spoke Nov. 27 at the VFBF convention’s opening luncheon in Hot Springs.

Food Truths has been a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon and features interviews with U.S. farmers who dispel common misconceptions about agriculture. The book was awarded a 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards bronze medal for medicine, health and nutrition. Payn grew up on a Michigan dairy and grain farm and holds degrees in agricultural communications and animal science from Michigan State University. She has been a regional director for the National FFA Foundation and has marketed and sold dairy genetics. She has bred and judged dairy cattle as a registered Holstein breeder since age 9 and now resides on a small Indiana farm.

She noted that conversations about food, how it is produced and whether it is safe are taking place all the time. But farmers aren’t always doing much talking. Or their messages aren’t resonating.

“How many times do we keep our heads in the sand until we get really defensive and come out swinging?” Payn asked. She added that statistics and science don’t always resonate with consumers.

“Sometimes people just want to know why their food is being raised the way it is.”

Payn paraphrased the late author Maya Angelou’s assessment that while people will forget what you say and do, they “will never forget how you made them feel.”

Consequently, she said, “the process of celebrating agriculture has to be about those on the other side of the plate who have a different perspective. … So could we please, please try to connect with others around the plate to see what their hot buttons are, to see what gets them excited?”

The most-qualified person to start sharing the story of Virginia farms and farm products, Payne told convention participants, is in the mirror—every farmer’s mirror.

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