I grew up on a farm. At the time, my family had a farrow-to-finish hog farm and also grew corn, soybeans and wheat. I was very involved in 4-H and FFA at the local and state levels. I was an agricultural education major. I was what you might call a "farm kid," part of the larger agriculture industry community, maybe even someone who advocates for agriculture. That's me.
Earlier this year, we were on a video shoot near Houston. In the field next to where we were shooting, there were these tiny green sprouts that had barely popped up out the ground. I couldn't figure out what they were. I knew it wasn't corn. It was definitely not soybeans, either. I ran through the other crops I knew in my head and quickly realized that I could not identify this crop.
Later that afternoon I found out it was cotton. Cotton; a major crop. As it turns out, a major crop that I couldn't identify at that stage of growth. Now, I'm a "farm kid,” remember? But I didn't know it was cotton because being around cotton at that stage hadn't been my experience.
Also this year, we had a video shoot near the coast of California. The folks who were involved in our video project grew grapes on their farm. I asked a lot of questions and the answers made me realize that drinking wine didn't mean I actually knew anything about growing grapes or making wine. Even though I own a business that supports agriculture, I didn't know, because that hadn't been my experience.
Those two experiences really got me thinking; Here I am, a "farm kid,” someone who earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture from a major university, whose father makes his living as a farmer. Someone who owns a business that supports the agriculture industry, and I didn't know much in those situations because it hadn't been my experience.
And if I didn't know, how can I expect my friends from our suburban church to know what straw bales are made of, when perhaps they've never seen wheat harvest and certainly never baled straw?
How can I expect my hair stylist to know that those hogs would choose those fans and misters inside to laying around outside any day of the week in the summer, if they've never taken care of a pig all summer long?
How can I expect my rural neighbors to understand my pesticide application practices just because they drive by every day, when they've only ever had the experience of caring for their lawn.
We can't expect them to know. It hasn't been their experience.
But we can meet them where they are.
If you're reading this post, you're probably invested in telling the story of agriculture in some way, and it's easy to want to share from our perspective, but our perspective isn't necessarily the perspective of the folks we're trying to reach. We must meet them where they are, and forget the expectation they will meet us.
This is, of course, a critical step in any effective sharing, teaching and informing process, and yet, is one often overlooked in everyday conversations. With whom are you talking? What has been their experience? What are they thinking and feeling about a particular issue? What do they care about? What are their concerns?
Don’t forget, we're not just talking about consumers, either. Don't assume your friends in agriculture and your rural community have the same experience and perspective as you. After all, I was the farm kid standing next to a cotton field in Texas with no idea what was planted there.
Meet them where they’re at.