Leading out loud
STORM LAKE – Ask someone to think of an influential person, and a politician, professional athlete or Hollywood star may spring to mind. The truth may be much closer to home, however, which is good news for agriculture, said two South Dakota ranchers.
“Do you think of yourself as an influential person?” asked Troy Hadrick, 35, from Vale, S.D., who teamed up recently with his wife, Stacy, to present three “Advocates for Agriculture: Lead Out Loud” presentations in Cedar Rapids, Ankeny and Storm Lake.
“In the last 12 months, have you attended three or more meetings, served on a committee, served as an officer in an organization or contacted an elected official? If you’re done three of these four things, you’re an influential person.”
This means farmers and other ag professionals can – and should – use their influence to tell agriculture’s story, Hadrick said. This is vital, since many activists, from the Sierra Club to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have plenty to say about modern agriculture, although it’s often inaccurate and potentially damaging to farmers’ livelihoods, he said.
“PETA is targeting children through its web site, which includes an entire section on becoming a vegetarian,” said Stacy Hadrick, a mother of three. “That’s why farmers and ranchers need to be ready to educate people about agriculture and explain things in a way they’ll understand.”
Learning the hard way
The Hadricks’ motivation to inspire other ag professionals to share their story stems from lessons learned the hard way in 2002. The couple had worked with nationally-known writer and University of California Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan, who said he wanted to write an article on a steer from the farm gate to the dinner plate. When the article “Power Steer” ran in the New York Times in March of 2002, however, it was an entirely different story than the family expected.
“Michael had pitched it as a positive story as he sat at our kitchen table, but the article told people that we abuse our animals and pollute the air and water,” said Troy Hadrick, who noted that Pollan had been mentioned at one time as a potential U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary for the Obama administration. “That’s when we decided that we were not going to let anyone else tell our story.”
During their Feb. 9 presentation in Storm Lake, the Hadricks shared their top tips for connecting with the non-farm public, including the “three t’s:”
Talk.It’s important to know your audience, keep your message simple and avoid using jargon and acronyms that consumers may not understand. The Hadricks encourage people to develop a 30-second “elevator speech” to start the conversation. “Tell you are, where you’re from and your connection to agriculture,” said Troy Hadrick, who also urges producers to hand out their business cards to the people they meet and encourage them to call if they have questions about farming or food production. “I know you’re busy, but being ready and willing to tell your story needs to be one of your daily chores.”
Teach.Work with the youth, said Stacy Hadrick, who encourages farmers to invite schoolchildren to tour their farm. Also consider speaking to local students, either in person in the classroom or through video technology. The Hadricks were recently “adopted” by a fourth-grade class in Sioux Falls, S.D., and once a moth the ranchers record a 10-minute video that they send to the students. “When the kids got done watching our video of the corn harvest last fall, they wanted to watch it again-and it wasn’t because of our amazing video skills,” Stacy Hadrick said. “Kids are hungry for this information.”
Touch.Focus on honesty andpassion when telling agriculture’s story. “If you do those two things, you will really make a connection with the people youmeet,” Troy Hadrick said. “When you are excited about what you do, ourconsumers will be, too, and they’ll help tell your story by sharing it with theirfriends and neighbors.”
Yellow Tail turns into Yellow Fail
Not interested in giving formal presentations, striking up conversations with strangers or visiting a local classroom? Don’t overlook the power of the social mediato help spread agriculture’s positive story.
Thousands of people follow the Hadricksthrough a variety of social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter. The Hadricks also write a blog at HYPERLINK ““http://www.advocatesforag.com”>www.advocatesforag.com““http://www.advocatesforag.com”>www.advocatesforag.com. One of their biggest social media success stories came through a 53-second video that Troy posted YouTube in February of 2010, in response to Australia-based Yellow Tail Wine’s plans to donate $100,000 to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
“I grabbed the video camera and set it on the feedlot fencepost by the water tank, and gave my 30-second elevator speech,” said Troy Hadrick, whose cattle are shown standing in the background as he dumps a bottle of Yellow Tail Wine in the feedlot, explains why he opposes the donation to HSUS and urges support for America’s farmers and ranchers.
The video (“Yellow Tail is Now Yellow Fail” at HYPERLINK ““http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCR_J2fWsKA”>www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCR_J2fWsKA““http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCR_J2fWsKA”>www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCR_J2fWsKA) began attracting attention soon after Hadrick posted it to YouTube. The number of views continued to climb hour by hour, and within a few days a reporter from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation called to interview Hadrick.
“At first I thought it was one my buddies playing a joke on me,” said Hadrick, who noted that the video reached the Australian Embassy and beyond. “The great news is that Yellow Tail admitted they were wrong. This shows why you can’t discount the difference we can make by telling our story, and you don’t even have to leave home to do it. Take the tools you’ve got, and use them any way you can.”
You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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