Last week I had the opportunity to present at the AgChat Foundation Conference held in Austin, Texas. Along with 3 other colleagues, we shared with the other 140 people in attendance on how UNL Extension is able to reach a large audience through collaboration and reaching beyond our own areas of expertise and programming. Through the use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, blogs and websites, we reached nearly 3 million people!
Extension educators, Lindsay Chichester, Alice Henneman, Jenny Rees and myself shared some tips on how to manage social media so it doesn’t become burdensome on one’s time, but rather enhance or create personal relationships and networking opportunities. For those unaware of AgChat, the mission is “empowering farmers & ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms”. The AgChat Foundation is a non-profit organization designed to empower farmers and ranchers to leverage social media as a tool to tell agriculture’s story. It equips and educations farmers with skills needed to effectively engage on social media and is a grassroots effort led by farmers & ranchers. AgChat has Tuesday night “chats” which discuss agricultural issues or current events.
This was one of the best conferences I’ve had the opportunity to attend! It not only helped make personal connections with others from across the U.S. who have a passion for agriculture, but opened my eyes on the best ways to communicate with people who have different views on agriculture than me. Speakers were dynamic and had an overall message, “engage with people first, and then educate”. In Extension, our role is to provide research-based information and educate people so when people are passionate about something based on misinformation, I want to educate them instantly. After hearing from a mom in favor of “organic, local & natural” type foods, a chef who purchases from “sustainable and local” farmers and another blogger against GMO’s, it made me realize that when we go into “educate mode” and tell them they have misinformation, what we are implying to them is that they are uneducated and forcing them to conform to our views. While they might not have the right information, we need to engage them in a conversation first and seek to understand where they are coming from. They just want their voices and concerns heard. After engaging in a conversation in a non-confrontational manner we can explain our thoughts and educate on the facts and research. Ultimately it is up to each individual to make up their own mind how they feel about various types of foods.
The great thing about the United States is that we have the option to choose! If people want to pay more for organic food, they have that right, but in order to feed the growing population, conventional agricultural practices must continue in order to prevent famine and starvation. One thing I encourage farmers and ranchers to do is invite people to their farms or ranches so people can see the excellent job you do to provide people with a safe, wholesome and nutritious product. Some of the farmers at the conference agreed that is one of the best ways to engage people in the agriculture and food discussions. By showing others the efficient, humane, and sustainable practices you do everyday, others can see the great work you do and then make an informed decision on their food choices.
One thing is clear, we live in the best nation in the world because we have an abundance of food and the ability to make decisions for ourselves.