3 Phrases Agvocates Should Lose

Agvocates do nothing from rivalry or conceit

As agvocates, we share our perspectives of agriculture from the lens of our own truth. My lens, or filters will be different from all other agvocates, because I have different experiences and my farm is different from all others. Having that diversity is awesome when it comes to agvocating, especially if the main message is a unified one: Agriculture is important in the United States, and we are blessed to have the safest, most abundant food supply, with the best choices available to fit everyone’s desires. So, if we see things through our own lens, which gives us our own truth, how do we stand united?

Over the past 18 months, I have been to many conferences where speakers and consumer researchers have told the attendees to meet their consumers on an emotional level. We need to make them feel good, and help them understand that no matter what they purchase in the grocery store they are supporting a farming or ranching family. Looking at agvocating from that perspective, I see three phrases or ideas that we should lose in order to reach our consumers on that emotional level.

Food Shaming

It’s pretty safe to say that there isn’t a person alive in North America who hasn’t felt the sting of judgement from their friends or neighbors. Heck, some of us have felt the sting of judgement from our fellow agvocates. The most popular form of judgement is food shaming. Typically, it is seen as a totally granola mom telling all her friends they have to eat only organic to “properly” raise their children. There is a lot of outrage in those instances. When a mom who feeds her kids organic gets shamed, and told that she’s just wasting her money on a marketing scheme, is that any better? There isn’t as much outrage when that happens, but to me, shaming is shaming, and it needs to stop. We will never be the trusted source of information for consumers if we are making them feel bad about their choices. Bottom line: nobody wants to feel stupid for the choices they make. We lose their trust, and they go elsewhere for their information (Peta, HSUS, etc). We need to stop shaming our consumers…and each other.


I’ll admit that this hashtag and the accompanying tweets associated with it annoy me for a couple of reasons. First, most of the tweets have a “I can’t believe you don’t know this” attitude when telling people about some study or another that proves that biotech or whatever is safe. The problem with that attitude is, we make consumers feel dumb. How many people have a science degree, or can understand what the studies are saying? We’re told when giving speeches or agvocating in public to speak at a 4th grade level…I’ve read many study abstracts, and I can tell you, they are not written at a 4th grade level! The Center for Food Integrity’s 2014 research talks a lot about this very thing. We cannot forget about the impact that emotion plays when people are deciding whether or not to trust your truth. Secondly, many of the tweets associated with this hashtag make it sound like the only science in agriculture is biotechnology. When you think about it, biotechnology is a pretty small part of the science that goes into raising a crop, even if the majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton raised in North America are genetically engineered. We all need to pay attention to soil science, plant science (including weeds), pathology, animal science, and hydrology…not to mention computer science, and engineering. I know I’m missing some major ones, but you get the idea. Agriculture involves a lot of science, no matter what you grow. We just can’t assume that our consumers will “get” the science that we work with every day. Heck, I don’t understand the science that goes along with range management or animal nutrition, because I don’t ever work with that. Fortunately, I have trusted friends I can go to when I have questions. That’s what we need to be to our consumers.

Biotech is the only way to feed the world

I’ve had many great conversations about this phrase. Looking at it from an agvocating point of view, though, I think we need to lose it. As consumers, we are all a bit self centered. We want what we want when we want it. When we are making our way through the grocery store, we are not thinking about how many people in the world the average farmer is feeding. We are thinking about checking off our grocery lists, or we’re trying to remember what it is we needed as we’re being distracted by kids, neighbors who want to say hello, or the little old ladies who need help getting a bag of cat food into their cart. This message is being lost on the consumer. I don’t know about you, but I eat a pretty diverse diet. I like my cereal or eggs in the morning, but the rest of the day I’m eating a variety of meats, potatoes or rice, and vegetables. For snacks, I like fruits, or coffee. I don’t like eating the same thing all the time, because I get bored with it. There are what, nine genetically engineered crops on the market? Foods made with those crops do not make up the entirety of the average diet. We need the diversity in agriculture to make the whole system work. We celebrate diversity in every other aspect of our lives, why not in agriculture? When the whole choir only sings one note, there is no harmony. When my BLT has no L or T, it is just a bacon sandwich…but that actually doesn’t sound all that bad….

So, what should we be saying when we agvocate?

In our lenten series at church this year, our Pastor has been talking about not separating our faith from our every day life, but to treat it as we do everything else. The funny thing is, I have taken a ton of notes during his Sunday sermons lately, because they fit agvocating so well. The verse on the photo above summed up my feelings about how to agvocate effectively without running the risk of alienating other farmers or our consumers.

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2: 3-4”

How cool would it be if we all agvocated that way…doing nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

We can do this when we tell our story, since we know it better than anyone else. This also goes back to each of us having our own truth. Nobody can argue with you if you say, “On my farm, we do this…” or “On my ranch, we do that…” That is your story, and your truth. You can find things in common with your consumers if you write about things they may be able to relate to. They won’t relate to farming, but if you develop a relationship with them over a common topic, you will be their trusted source when you do write about agriculture.

I absolutely believe we can speak as a unified voice for agriculture, but it’s going to take a little change in attitude from all of us. Will you join me in supporting all of our farming and ranching families?


Why Is It…?

My Twitter feed is increasingly making me crabby. I follow a pretty diverse group, both conventional and organic farmers, a variety of agriculture businesses, and a wide range of bloggers. Why is it that every morning, my twitter feed is clogged with more conventional farmers putting down organic agriculture? The organic farmers I follow don’t share near the non-GM stuff as what the conventional farmers are sharing. Even some people that work for groups that are supposed to support all of agriculture are sharing more anti-organic graphics. I thought that when you claim to be an “agvocate”, you would be speaking for agriculture, not pitting one method against another.

I belong to a speakers group through the Minnesota Farm Bureau called Speak for Yourself. In our training sessions, we are taught to tell our farm story through the use of Power Point presentations. We are given the opportunity to create our presentations, then give them to our class for practice. We are to focus on our farm, and not worry about what our neighbors are doing. That way, when we go out and speak to groups like a Lions Club or Rotary Club, we are putting a face on farming. We are taught to present a positive picture of agriculture, and to be a resource to those who we have shared our story. As an organic farmer, I have been able to give my presentation to a group that had quite a few Monsanto employees in it. They enjoyed the presentation because I focused on my farm, without putting any commentary about other farms into my presentation. This is proof that speaking about only my farm can bring a clear message.

Do you hear a lot of people talking about the Paleo diet, vegetarianism, veganism, the Whole30 Challenge, and other restrictive diets? Why is it that those diets are acceptable, yet people who choose to eat organic foods are called anti-science? Last time I checked, it was not advised to go on a diet that eliminates whole food groups or are too restrictive. There are many scientific articles relating to the long term viability of vegan diets, for example. If I were to follow in other farmer’s footsteps, I could post a graphic that I found on the internet. After all, whatever is on the internet has to be true, right?

A few of my friends have told people that they can go ahead and waste their money by paying extra for the organic label. Really? How is that attitude fostering a positive image of agriculture? These same people are so excited when the farmers market opens and they can finally get fresh produce. I’m sure you could get tomatoes from the grocery store for less. So what if they are a little more pale and pulpy than the organic ones, or the ones fresh from the farmers market. Sounds a little bit hypocritical to me. No wonder consumers are confused.

Speaking of consumers, I see a lot of the anti-organic graphics and studies aimed at them. Talk about mommy guilt. Conventional farmers are just as bad as organic farmers if you really look at the graphics being shared. Why is it that only the end products are looked at when people are arguing over methods? Isn’t there a grower in there somewhere that is preparing the soil, buying seeds, planting, nurturing, and harvesting? In my mind, there is a whole lot more to these systems than just the end product.

This brings me back to the whole organic farmers are anti-science statements that make me cringe. We are anti-science because we choose not to use a certain seed technology? What the heck? That is such an insult. We use science to determine what our soil profiles are, how much manure needs to be applied, how much nitrogen the corn plants are taking up, when to flame weed the corn, and what tillage methods we need to tweak. We use more technology in our tractors than most of our neighbors. So, using the same logic, we can call all farmers who don’t use GPS guidance systems and field mapping anti-technology, backwards, and old, right? Why is it that conventional farmers feel the need to call others names because they farm different? It sounds a lot like school yard bullying, and makes us all look stupid.

Why is it so hard to resist hitting the share button when you know it’s going to hurt your farming friends and neighbors?  You tell your story, I’ll tell mine, let other farmers tell theirs. When we start to tell each other’s stories, the whole agriculture message gets all mucked up, and consumers don’t know who to trust. We need to resist the temptation to post things that prove we are “right”. Who says that anyone is wrong? What is right for you will not be right for me. Even if we farmed using the same methods. Your soils, climate, personality…everything about you is different than me. That is what is awesome about being a farmer in the US. We have the freedom to farm how we like. We have the freedom to grow what we want. We have markets available to sell our products. There is so much good happening in agriculture, why is it that we feel like we need to put others down?

Let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater.” -Bono

Who am I to Judge – For Farmers and Consumers

Late last week, my Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up with farmers and consumers weighing in on Panera Bread’s new marketing campaign. My friend, Dairy Carrie, wrote this blog as an open letter to Panera Bread. So many farmers were offended by the insinuation that they are lazy for using antibiotics, that the blog post went wild. It took a few days for the CMO to contact Carrie, and she wrote about the conversation here.  I started writing a response, but was a little too hot under the collar at the level of disrespect, so I scrapped it.

One of the scripture passages that we read on Sunday kind of had me sit up a little more. I included the part that stuck out to me below:

Colssians 2:16-19 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

The last verse reminded me of this passage:

1 Corinthians 12:12-26   12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

So, what does this have to do with Panera Bread?

There have been many tweets, Facebook postings, and blogs written from all points of view. Some were nasty towards other farmer’s opinions, and some were nasty towards Panera. There also posts that invited Panera into a conversation with farmers, and posts that made you stop and think about why we had the reaction we did.

The nasty posts made me a little sad. Who are we to judge another farmer’s method of raising animals or crops. If the animals are healthy and thriving, have enough food and shelter, should we be condemning them because we prefer to raise our animals in a barn? The farmer who chooses to raise his animals as a completely antibiotic free animal for a specific market has every right to do so. Just as those who use antibiotics under a veterinarians guidance has every right to do so.

The same can be said for those who choose to grow their crops with pesticides, and those who choose to grow their crops without. Every farmer has made a choice based on what works for them and their farm. If I don’t want to buy GM sweet corn, I can buy organic sweet corn. If I don’t want to buy organic produce, I can buy conventional produce.

What the scriptures above basically say, is that we are not to judge others based on what they eat or drink. Or what church they go to. Or what celebrations they attend. The important thing is that, as Christians, we are all forgiven when we ask. We are all one body…which I think can apply to agriculture as well.

There are many parts to agriculture. There are some that are larger than others, but that doesn’t meant they are more important. Every individual has a say…and the way Dairy Carrie’s blogs were shared, there was a lot of say’in this weekend.

I also think these passages point to respecting others. While I do not sell any goods to Panera Bread, I was a frequent visitor of their Sioux Falls location. I was offended at the lack of respect they showed for both the farmer and the consumer. By telling the consumers that they, and the farmers who raise conventional chickens, are lazy if they don’t choose Panera’s antibiotic free chicken is going against Colssians 2:16. The smugness of the CMO’s response, and the failure to pull the ad campaign entirely, points to the puffed up with pride reference. Panera has so many good things going for it, they didn’t need to “go there” with this new marketing angle.

I believe that the Bible can teach us so many things about how to have effective relationships with people. Do I think Panera can still have a conversation with farmers? Absolutely. We both must come to the table realizing that we are different parts of the same body. We need to show respect and humility on both sides. Most of all, we need to stop judging people by their food or farming choices.


Listen to this while you read…

Farmers are in a boxing match right now. It’s becoming more of an us vs them atmosphere all the time.

In one corner, you have an organic farmer. In the other corner, you have a conventional farmer.

They meet in the middle, the ref gives the usual preliminary instructions, then the bell sounds.

Uppercut: Monsanto is evil

Left hook: Organic foods are no better than conventional. You don’t know the science.

The fight goes on until someone ends up on the canvas.  Half of the crowd goes home elated that “they” won. The other half goes home feeling dejected.

So, who exactly is in this audience? Farmers, consumers, HSUS, PeTA, Sierra Club? Who is on the floor betting against this fight? Who is the bookie? The Environmental Working Group?

At the end of the day, who really won the match of farmer vs farmer?  While one farmer may have ended up on the canvas, did the other one really go home unscathed? I don’t think so. The real winner in the fight is the anti-agriculture groups who are raking in big bucks, and profiting from our unwillingness to join the same team.

We have been so busy lately fighting one another that we haven’t noticed the anti’s quietly taking bets on who is going to survive.  We really need to be on the same team here. Farmer vs Anti Ag should be the fight we are training for.

We all bring different things to the team. When you are training for a competition, you need cross training to enable your body to function at a higher level. When you are sparring to prepare for a bout, you need different sparring partners who throw different combinations of punches to keep you from getting too comfortable in your ways. In agriculture, the cross training is attending sessions about the newest research that will help you manage your farm to its highest potential. The sparring partners are the conversations we have with each other, and with those who use different methods. These interactions help to keep us on our toes, while at the same time hone our skills so we can be in the best shape possible. We can, and should, learn from each other.

At the end of the match, all farmers want agriculture to be the one standing with its arm raised in victory.

Is It Possible…Truth

Is it possible that we can all have a different truth?

The definition of truth at Dictionary.com lists 5 different meanings. In those different definitions, there is room for truth to be personal. What is true for you may not be true for me.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with people or organizations wanting to tell you the truth about GMO’s…or about organic farming…or the causes of cholesterol…or the cure for baldness and cancer. All the posts floating out there have made me question the Truth about Agriculture message.

You all know by now that Jonathan and I are organic crop farmers, and conventional pig farmers. What we consider the truth about agriculture is different that what other farmers consider the truth. So, who is right? Well, we both are.

When I tell my farm story to groups like the Lions or Rotary, I tell my farm story. I don’t mention anything about how my neighbors farm other than the fact that we do things differently. I don’t know the first thing about raising almonds, or milking cows, or cutting alfalfa, or growing cotton. Why would I even try to speculate on what those farmers might be doing? I don’t want to be the one spreading internet generated half truths about my neighbor’s farm. I eat at the same restaurants, worship at the same church, and attend family reunions with some of them. I respect my neighbors and my farmer friends too much to want to condemn their methods of farming just to make me look or feel good. I am sensitive to the power of words, and hate when I say something that would hurt someone. It’s just part of my DNA. I’m definitely not trying to make myself sound like I’m perfect. Jonathan and the girls will tell you differently.

My hope is that more farmers will be willing to get out there and tell their stories. Start your own blog, attend a training session to become part of a speakers corp, or use other social media platforms where consumers will be able to hear your truth. I’d rather hear about your farm from you, not from some group with an agenda.


I think it’s time I aired a few things…  I am not perfect.

I use too much hairspray, swear too much (sorry, mom), drink a little (again – sorry, mom), am addicted to good coffee, and have a temper.  I never finished college, and I don’t have perfect grammar. I am overweight because I love good food, and I don’t exercise enough. I am super scared of mice, and I hate spiders.

I have good qualities as well. I am a christian, am active in my church, and I love to give back when I can. I am involved on many agricultural related committees and task forces. I am a wife, mom, aunt, sister, cousin, and friend. I love my whole crazy family – the in-laws and outlaws, too.  I try to be respectful at all times, whether I am communicating in person, or on the internet. I am loyal to a fault…yes, I’m still a Minnesota pro sports fan.

Jonathan and I hang out with very different groups of people.  We have our neighborhood card club, made up mostly of Belgian-American farmers that are pretty much all related to each other. We are the only Scandinavians in the group.  Then there is our dinner club, made up of 5 couples from church. Our ages range from early 40’s to mid-70’s.  It is a very eclectic group, but we have tons of fun.  I am active in Farm Bureau, and count amongst my friends farmers from all over the US and Canada.  There are many different farming styles represented by my friends.

I’m pretty sure there are no others on the planet that have the same personality quirks that I do. I am an individual, unique, even a bit crazy at times. Yet, I am welcomed into each group because I have at least one thing in common with them.  The whole six degrees of separation thing has proven itself many times!

Does this sound any different from the rest of you?

I am an organic crop farmer. I’m not a 1st generation hippie farmer like some would like you to believe. Our farm will be celebrating it’s centennial this year. 100 years of continuous Olson family farmers.  Jonathan and I started farming together in 1988. We farmed conventionally until 1998, when we started to transition our first field into organic production. We finished transitioning all of our acres just a few years ago.  In the early ’90’s, many farm economists were talking about value added opportunities, and finding alternative crops to grow to stay viable. So, we did. We love our method of farming, and we are proud of what we grow.  That attitude is pretty much the same attitude that Jonathan’s great-grandfather had when he moved his family to this farm from Iowa. It is the same attitude that Jonathan’s grandfather had when he started raising seed for the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association in the 1940’s.

More confessions – we do not eat an exclusively organic diet. We eat more meat than vegetables at some meals, and don’t feel bad about it. I buy groceries based on taste preferences, and what’s available at the time. I don’t like turnips or tons of root vegetables. I have never tried kale, and part of me thinks there is no way it can be good for you. I don’t like heavy whole wheat breads. And, I don’t feel guilty for my food choices. I know that whatever I choose to eat, a farmer is involved.

I don’t think I fit any stereotypes for organic farmers. Funny thing is, I don’t know too many who do.

The point of this whole thing? Every farmer is unique. We all do things a little differently on our farms, like to eat different foods, and cheer for different sports teams. We can get along when we are face to face at meetings, on trips, or just hanging out. Why, then, does it seem like we can’t get along on the internet?  Why do people feel free to put down others in a medium that is viewed by those who may not understand the subjects we are arguing about? Just discussing the pros and cons of certain GM seeds, or different organic methods can quickly turn into a battle between farmers. What’s the point in that? What are others hearing when farmers are putting each other down?

I shared some my laundry at the beginning of this blog – not to make myself feel better, but to point out that we typically only see a small portion of who a person is.  Agriculture is the same way. What we talk about on social media is only a small portion of what farming is. Instead of focusing on the faults, why not take a look at the whole picture?  You might find that you have more in common with each other than you think.

I can't seem to take a decent photograph...
I can’t seem to take a decent photograph…

What Messages are our Readers Hearing?

Social media moves fast. Opinions are cast about, sometimes without further thought. At times, this is okay. Other times, we may have just washed our credibility down the drain.  It is sort of like the high school kid who posts a ton of inspirational Bible verses during the week, and all weekend there are photos of them either drunk, or with alcohol in hand at a party.  Which image are you going to remember? The underage drinking, or the Bible verses?

I like to follow certain agriculture blogs, and have found it worthwhile to connect with them on Twitter and Facebook as well. It seems to be a more complete picture of the message they would like to convey.  I know I’m not the only one, judging by the traffic on those sites.

Today, there was a lot of conversation going on about this speech that made the news last night.  I read the article, and decided to digest it a little while before commenting.  I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds, looking to see what others had to say as well.

I have many friends that farm organically, and I have many friends that farm conventionally. When we are together, we do not throw barbs at one another, or make inflammatory remarks about their methods of farming. We are passionate about what we do, and want to promote our products. That is not a bad thing. Every farmer should be proud of what they raise.

There are times when passion takes over, and lines are crossed. It makes me sad when farmers are attacking one another, just because they farm differently. The trend this afternoon has been to take snippets of Mark’s speech (linked above), and use it to bolster their opinion.  How does this make us any better than the activists who are bent on putting us out of business, simply because they have an impassioned opinion about what we do?

Jonathan and I both share the opinion that there is room for all kinds of agriculture in the United States.  This means that I try very hard not to put down farming practices that are different from mine.  I learn more when I try looking at things from a different angle, or try understanding where another person is coming from.

To be honest, I was hoping people would react to Mark’s speech in a way that could heal some of the division we are seeing in agriculture. I would challenge others to view the speech not as validation for any one point of view, but as a courageous admission that maybe we don’t know everything.  I challenge my friends and neighbors to stand up for each other. Support the farmer’s choice for how they farm their land, or raise their animals. Our goals are all the same, really.

This leads me to ask, what messages are our readers hearing? The ones where we say agriculture needs to be united, or the messages where we put down that which is different than our own?