In case you haven’t noticed, the agriculture industry has gotten a bad rap in recent years. As anti-agriculture activists are leading the public to believe the industry is made up of uncaring, insensitive factory farms, farmers and other agriculture workers are fighting an uphill battle to set the record straight.
Farmers in America today are a minority group that represents only about 1.5 percent of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans are three or four generations removed from a farm, and many haven’t even visited a farm in five years or more. That means the average American lacks understanding about the important role agriculture plays in all our lives, and it’s up to us to educate them.
“If you care about agriculture being accurately represented, know that we need every voice in the conversation,” says Michele Payn-Knoper, one of the nation’s leading food and farm advocates and founder of Cause Matters Corp., a company that works to give consumers a better understanding of where their food comes from. “98.5 percent of people in our country are not on a farm, which means fewer people have firsthand knowledge about where their food comes from. FFA members have the rare opportunity to experience the diversity of agriculture through classes, SAEs [supervised agricultural experience programs] and CDEs [career development events]. Contrast that with your classmates, who eat without considering the people behind the food – or worse, believe misinformation promoted by anti-agriculture activists.”
A former FFA member from Michigan, Payn-Knoper found her calling as a public speaker while competing on the stage of the Michigan FFA Convention as a greenhand. Today, she travels all over the world to help quell misconceptions about agriculture.
“I found a real need for ag to have a stronger voice,” she says. “I’m deeply committed to helping more people in agriculture find their voices, whether at Starbucks, on Facebook, or in the hallways of school or work. If we don’t speak out, agriculture loses.”
Former Kansas FFA member Jill Casten works as the director of training and development for the American Farm Bureau Federation and says it is crucial for FFA members to be able to speak intelligently about agriculture. Too many organizations are already portraying agriculture incorrectly and unfairly.
“If FFA members do not step up to represent agriculture in a positive way, the alternative is for someone else to represent it for us,” Casten says. “The agriculture industry is ever-changing, so we are always facing the challenge of communicating the complexities and opportunities the industry presents.”
As students of agricultural education, FFA members represent the future of agriculture, whether you intend to be a farmer or something else.
“You might be surprised by the influence you can have as an FFA chapter in communicating a positive image and educating others about agriculture,” Casten says.
The use of technology and social media has taken the opportunity to share agriculture to a whole new level.
“Setting up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for your chapter can help promote your events,” Casten says. “Just Tweeting and updating our statuses with positive messages will be a great way to get started. Some members may want to incorporate a blog and upload videos. These can be shared at the click of a button, yet have a great impression on those who follow you. That’s the beauty of it.”
Where to Start
Want to be an agvocate, but not sure where to start? Consider these possibilities:
- Work with elementary students to introduce them to agriculture. Hands-on activities are best.Use social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to give urban residents a glimpse into a farmer’s life.
- Share pictures from the field, greenhouse, barn or your SAE on Facebook, and explain why they matter to you.
- Have a conversation with your friends about why agriculture is cool and why you participate in FFA.
- Incorporate agriculture examples into projects for other classes.
- Have your chapter set up a booth at community events where you can pass out materials and farm-related goodies, such as sweet corn or milk.
– Jessica Mozo