Educating the Consumer Responsibly

November 11, 2022 | Joel Fox

Educating the Consumer Responsibly

It is popular today to talk of “agvocating”, and of “telling our story”. As Christian farmers, we know that we are called to be good stewards of our land, our animals, and our communities, but we should also recognize a responsibility of stewardship towards the general consumer. To be a good steward requires leaving things better than we found it, and so, if we desire to educate the consumer about agriculture, we must take great care to speak the whole truth. To “educate” the consumer selectively is not to educate them at all, but to leave them with a different, and often a worse form of ignorance.

We are familiar with this counterproductive form of “educating”; we see it in politics, advertisements, and pushy sales tactics. It is the art of carefully selecting the information given, and the information not given.  When the used car salesman proclaims the virtues of his vehicle, but neglects to inform the buyer of the infrequent engine failures, he has not lied, but he has not been honest either. As Christians, we are called to a higher standard of honesty, which requires telling the whole story, not picking and choosing with an ulterior motive.

When consumers ask us how we farm, will we talk only of the good things? Or will we have the genuineness to discuss the contentious aspects of our industry? Will we have the humility to open ourselves to criticism? If we look at our agricultural past, we see many practices which shock and horrify us today, but will we tell the consumer that we have arrived at perfection? That we have no need to change, and that technology is already solving the few problems we have left?

We may also mislead the consumer by sharing information that we have not cared to confirm, which is akin to spreading gossip. As farmers, the consumer trusts us as experts in agricultural matters, but when we confidently assert things that we have no real experience with, it betrays that trust. A good example of this is when consumers ask why dairy farmers separate cows and calves. A common answer is that it is healthier for the calf, but I’ve yet to meet a dairy farmer who has actually raised calves with the cow and had more issues with disease. Let’s make sure we don’t give second-hand answers that we haven’t explored carefully.

When we are not careful in how we agvocate, we can easily mislead the consumer, and even worse, mislead ourselves. Though they are often not well informed, the consumer is still a necessary voice in agriculture. They can correct us when we go wrong, and they can offer valuable viewpoints that we sometimes don’t get within the industry, but we must be open and vulnerable to criticism. Out of respect for the consumer, and to be a good steward of our relationship with them, we must offer them the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Joel Fox is a dairy farmer and freelance writer. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.