Last week, you might recall that I shared how society in general has become more science illiterate over the past decades and basic definitions of science and research. One particular part of the science definition important to consider and has implications on the agricultural industry. Science as defined by Merriam-Webster, “The state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding”. “As distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding”… When people make decisions based on science, they are using facts to support their decision; however recently, large companies and food chains are making decisions with ignorance and misunderstanding, rather than using science.
As an educator, the first thing I want to do (and often do), when various companies use their money and marketing schemes to attack agriculture is fire back with facts and data explaining why or how that particular company is wrong with their bold statements that a majority of the time, have no sound science or data to back their decisions. Some people just don’t enough about an issue or haven’t researched an issue from credible sources and providing the science-based information might work; however an overwhelming majority of consumers just believe what they hear from large companies. After all, large companies have deep pockets to spend on advertising and are savvy in their approaches, such as Chipotle. Blasting the average consumer with facts is usually not the most effective way to communicate with them. First, we must “meet them where they are.” Find something you have in common with them and try to understand why they feel a particular way about an issue.
An example approach I might take is to engage in conversation with an anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) person. First, find some things we have in common. It might be they have two young children like me, so we can talk about what it is like to be a working mother and raising children. Then, ask that person, why they feel a particular way about GMOs. In a non-defensive way, I can share with them my experiences and knowledge of GMOs and that I have no problems with them and they won’t harm my children. Even if this conversation doesn’t change the person’s mind, it might make them have some respect for my point of view and agree there is a place for all kinds of foods and agriculture. While I understand this type of approach takes time and might not always work, whenever one becomes defensive, it never seems to do any good.
When you take the science illiteracy component and add how disconnected consumers are from agriculture, it is inevitable that misinformation and emotion-driven decisions will be made. Our role as agriculturalists is to engage with people first, and then educate – a clear message I received from the AgChat Foundation conference last year. We need to be engaged in these difficult conversations to help educate others.
As a farmer’s daughter, I can assure my non-agricultural friends, famers are some of the hardest working and intelligent people you will ever meet. I also feel privileged to work with farmers and ranchers and the future of agriculture through our youth. Agriculture is and will always be the backbone of our country and without it, we would not be here today.