Too many cooks in the advocacy kitchen? (commentary)

On one hand, there are a lot of cooks in the agvocacy kitchen. On the other, each of us has a different agriculture story and a different perspective.

A friend of mine mentioned that an agriculture professional came to speak with one of her on-campus organizations a while ago, bringing the message that every person involved in agriculture should be actively blogging and participating in social media “agvocacy” efforts. That’s a pretty common message in agriculture circles today.

Despite hearing this message, my friend still hasn’t started up a blog. Her reasoning?

“I’m not that good of a writer. I like plants, not writing, and I don’t have the time it takes to find accurate scientific information to back up my ideas. I don’t want to muddy the waters for people by contributing to an effort in a way that creates more confusion than good.”

That got me thinking. There’s no question that there is a need to educate consumers on the ways of modern agriculture. But I wonder if relative quality of advocacy messages may have an impact on consumer response and therefore the success of efforts to increase overall agriculture literacy.

It seems like everywhere you turn, agriculturalists are being encouraged to tell their stories, to be “agvocates.” In my opinion, it’s time to think a little harder about the ways we champion agriculture.

How can we advocate while recognizing our limitations of expertise?

Each individual in the agriculture industry has a different perspective and a different story to tell. But nobody is an expert on every topic! It seems like sometimes we are quick to jump to the defense of our fellow farmers, even if we don’t know all the facts about their segment of the industry. This creates confusion.

A good example of this is when some agvocates try to defend gestation stalls but confuse them with farrowing crates. This creates more of a problem, requiring experts to step in and try to provide clarification. In the resulting confusion, both the misinformed agvocates and the swine experts risk losing credibility and the industry seems like it can’t agree on a message.

Are we leaving room for more than one right answer?

The agriculture industry is not homogenous. People down the road from each other growing the same crops may make completely different management decisions for equally legitimate reasons. That’s something to celebrate and share. Advocating for a single production method while simultaneously discrediting those who use others creates confusion and resentment within the industry.

Is advocating badly more damaging than no advocacy at all?

I’m not sure there’s a right answer to this question. On one hand, there are a lot of cooks in the “agvocacy” kitchen. On the other, each of us has a different agriculture story and a different perspective, and there should be room for those in the conversation about food and farming. 

Agvocacy efforts are fantastic and necessary. But are there times when inaccurate information, lack of scientific grasp, and/or difficulty communicating clearly makes for poor execution. Is it possible that it’s to the detriment of the industry? Certainly something worth pondering I would say.

Faivre was raised on a farm in Northern Illinois, where she learned to love agriculture. She is a senior studying agriculture communications at Iowa State University in Ames.

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