By Patricia Grotenhuis (with tips from Lilian Schaer)
Everyone has a story to tell, and for Troy and Stacy Hadrick, sharing their story through social media has taken them around the world.
The ranching couple from South Dakota found out the hard way that relying on someone else to tell your story can have unintended consequences. Since an early media experience in 2002, where an interview with food activist Michael Pollan saw Troy – and the conventional beef industry – vilified in a feature article, they have vowed to do a better job telling their own story so misunderstandings do not happen again.
“Every single one of us involved in agriculture is a spokesperson,” says Stacy.
Over the years, the couple has found themselves sharing their story with people in the agriculture industry and also with consumers, businesses, activist groups and more. They are examples of how much one person can do, especially with social media’s ability to allow people to reach so many.
The Hadricks encourage all farmers and ranchers to tell their story. They stress the importance of bringing your connection to agriculture up when you introduce yourself to someone, opening the gate for conversations.
“Take a couple of minutes to answer questions. If you’re not excited about the stories you’re telling, they won’t be,” says Troy.
The couple gave both a workshop and a keynote address at the Farm & Food Care Ontario AGM in Waterloo during the month of April. Speaking to the conference topic, “Building Better Bridges”, they shared a number of stories about how they began advocating for agriculture on a large scale, and the experiences they have had since they began.
Troy and Stacy are daily examples of what they advocate – talking about how important it is to speak up when you hear information being shared which is not factual. One of the examples of how they have made a difference includes Yellowtail Wine and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Upon hearing that Yellowtail donated $100,000 to the HSUS, an animal activist organization (which fronts as a humane society but spends less than half of one per cent of its total budget to help animals, according to Humane Watch) Troy took action. He began by posting on Yellowtail’s facebook page, simply stating he was an American farmer and the donation would impact his family negatively, as HSUS strives to end animal agriculture. Troy encouraged family and friends to do the same.
Further reflection reminded Troy that he had a bottle of Yellowtail wine in his cupboard. He proceeded to create a 54 second video of him dumping the wine on the frozen ground while some of his beef cattle look on, explaining why he is dumping the wine and what impact the Yellowtail donation will have on many American families. You can see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCR_J2fWsKA
The video was uploaded to YouTube and the number of views began accumulating. Troy also started receiving attention from both Australian media and the Australian government. Unknown to Troy until this point, Yellowtail’s initial donation was part of a larger commitment to donate $300 000 over a three-year period. Through his short video and the use of social media, Troy prevented an additional $200 000 from being donated and resulted in an apology to the industry from the company. A response from Yellowtail to the negative publicity said that the feedback “was very helpful to us — in fact, it prompted us to specifically choose the areas where we’d most like to celebrate animals. …We hope that you will understand that this allocation of money is a direct result of hearing your concerns.”
“We changed the future course of donations from a multinational company with social media. That’s the power of social media,” says Troy.
Food and farming story telling tips- written by Lilian Schaer
Prepare a 30-second elevator speech – a quick description of who you are and what you do. Keep it simple by using words and concepts people will understand. Avoid using industry jargon and lingo, be prepared for the questions people will ask once they hear what you do and be aware of the criticism people have of your industry.
“For most people, meeting a farmer is like meeting Big Foot – they’ve heard it exists but have never met one,” says Stacy. “You only get one chance to make a first impression so make sure you adapt your elevator speech to your audience.”
Build a message map. If you’re asked to do an interview or answer questions about what you do, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts. Pick your topic or key point and support it with three key messages and supporting arguments. This technique also works for writing a letter to the editor, talking to your school board or meeting with politicians. Be careful not to overwhelm your audience with complicated messages or too many numbers, but if you don’t have any statistics handy, don’t make them up
“Always take a few minutes to compose yourself and get some points together,” advises Troy. “You can do this anywhere, in the dust on the dash of your pickup, on a napkin, anywhere – and don’t be afraid to have it sitting right in front of you.”
Stay informed. Know what consumers are seeing and hearing and what some of the common myths are about agriculture. To consumers, a farmer is a farmer regardless of what commodity you produce so you’re likely to be asked questions about all sorts of things people hear or see in the news. Be enthusiastic about what you do – if you’re not excited about what you do, no one else will be either.
“Talk with emotion, not fact and science,” says Stacy. “As farmers we’re not used to being emotional but activists and those who are against agriculture use emotion all the time.”
Become involved. Join the groups in your area. This can be a local chamber of commerce, business association or other organization so you can meet people who aren’t part of your regular agricultural world. These venues provide opportunities for you to speak up about who you are and what you do to produce food. The Hadricks also advise farmers to be active in the farm organizations they belong to.
“Take part in setting policy and be there when they need people to do things,” says Stacy. “We’re all busy but think about what you can do to squeeze a little bit more time to do your advocacy.”