Let’s face it, farmers are an insular group. There are many factors for this but I think the most common reason lies in the fact that most of us were the outdoor kids. The ones whose parents had to drag them in long after the stars had come out, the ones who could sneak up on any animal by the time they were ten, and of course the ones who were always covered in dirt. We got used to being outside and in being alone and that familiarity grew into a necessity. Then there is the weather factor. Most workers enjoy the creature comforts of air conditioning and working plumbing in their office but farmers and ranchers tend to be the type to revel in the sweat, the frozen toes, and the physical toil that comes along with manipulating nature for fun and profit. Now we have grown up into the bean savers, the calf watchers, and the yogurt makers of the world and may at times find more understanding in nature’s cathedral than anywhere else.
This solitary condition is all fine and good when you are dealing with goats or rutabaga but can become problematic when it comes to matters of public nature. Our time and toils have taught us to expect the unexpected, to be swift with our treatments and interventions, and to respect Mother Nature, but the general public has not yet been exposed to these commandments of farming. This is why it is important that we engage the public in a meaningful and educational manner and the way to do that is by being transparent.
The best businesses in the world are as transparent as possible. The reasons for this are many but first and foremost is because they have nothing to hide. When we make the decision to not show parts of our operation, we are hiding things from the public. I’m not talking about putting up slaughter videos on YouTube, although there is certainly a time and place for that with appropriate forewarning. What I’m really getting at is the daily realities of your operation.
When most laypeople think of a farm they picture white picket fences, 2.3 perfect cattle, and a rooster that only crows between the hours of 6:30 and 7:00 AM. What they don’t know about is the frustration and damage of mud season, that some animals will naturally lose condition in the winter months, the ungodly amount of waste left behind in a chicken brooder, or the realities of treating sick animals that do not understand what we are doing to them. All of these happenings on the farm are a potent learning opportunity when combined with social media or farm tours. Allowing the public access to your operation and then answering any questions they have can go viral, and hopefully those enlightened few will be happy to show off their understanding when speaking with their other non-farming friends.
There is risk in this endeavor as there are always people in the media who will gladly manipulate your narrative to fit their agenda. The best way to mitigate these risks is to be consistent and transparent. Be honest about the mistakes that you have made and how you have learned from those lessons. Let the public know that you stand behind your animal husbandry and frame your operation in a manner that showcases your love for farming and the difficulties that inevitably arise. So next time you post a picture of that newborn calf, snap a picture of the cow or tell the story of the birth and how your intervention and dedication provided them with the delicious food that is on their plate.