Speak Up! But Listen Closely
March 29, 2019 | By Marie Versteeg
This week, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario held its 2019 Annual Meeting in Waterloo. District Board members attended the meeting to represent their regions as voting delegates and to participate in our yearly Leadership Summit.
Christine Wilkinson and Madeline Rodrigue of Farm & Food Care Ontario presented a Speak Up! workshop, which helps farmers and others working in agriculture to effectively engage with members of the general public.
Wilkinson and Rodrigue offered pointers for successful conversations:
- listen carefully to make sure you understand the root of their concerns,
- use personal examples from your own farm,
- don’t answer questions outside your expertise,
- avoid jargon, and
- above all, remain polite.
Concerns about public trust are perennially discussed in ag news, at conferences, and of course, on social media. According to Farm & Food Care, less than 3% of Canadians farm, and most people are at least three generations removed from farming. The result is a large swath of the population that has never visited a farm or spoken with someone who farms for a living. But the good news is that farmers rank high in credibility.
This fact places a lot pressure on farmers to talk to other Canadians about farming. It’s becoming increasingly important to understand and communicate with consumers because they drive demand, inform policy, and ultimately affect your business.
For example, meat consumption in Canada is going down. It’s probably tempting to blame the rising popularity of vegetarianism and veganism for this shift, but a recent study from the University of Guelph reports that, even though about a tenth of Canadians describe themselves as either vegetarian or vegan, in fact, about one third of people who identify as vegetarian and more than half of people who identify as vegan actually do eat meat on a regular basis.
Why would people say they’re something that they’re not? Researchers suggest that these false claims are a result of virtue signalling (the practice of publicly expressing opinions to appear morally correct, or even superior). But if diet is a marker for virtue, how can farmers approach consumers who attach strong values to the food they eat?
Rodrigue and Wilkinson of Farm & Food Care Ontario suggest that it’s important for farmers to start discussions by finding common ground, such as a mutual desire for safe, healthy and affordable food that is environmentally friendly and respectful of animals.
It’s important to note that the University of Guelph study mentioned above tells us that concerns for animal welfare aren’t the main culprits for the decrease in Canadian meat consumption. Other factors include growing concerns over personal health and the environment, as well as the simple fact of demographics—an aging population eats less. Understanding all these forces will be important for farmers to remember when they have opportunities to share their good work with interested consumers.
Marie Versteeg is Manager of Executive Board & Committees for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. 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, CKXFM Chatham, and CKNX Wingham. It is also archived on the CFFO website, www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,000 family farmers across Ontario.