Finding Common Ground With the Ag Audience (Everyone)

There are few topics that are as emotional as food. Every single person has a personal relationship with food, because the act of eating is as intimate as it gets. Everyone has strong opinions, preferences and reactions to the act of eating.

And the majority of the world has no idea of how food actually gets to its plates.

When we talk food, there’s a substantial disconnect between the average end-user and the producer. Sure, everyone knows the romantic view of the American farmer. But most of those views are ill-informed, because most Americans don’t have any interaction with farmers. They just don’t know what farming actually entails.

That’s why it’s so important to tell the ag story.

The average American is now three to five generations removed from actual farming, and farm families make up less than 2 percent of the United States population.

“Consumers in the cities and suburbs are more disconnected from farm life than ever before, and that disconnect has led to misconceptions about modern farming, and the people behind it,” said Lavell Winsor, a farm analyst for K-State Research and Extension in Manhattan, Kansas. “They don’t have any realization of how their quality food is produced, what it is like to live on a farm, grow livestock and grain safely and efficiently as a livelihood so others can eat.”

Disconnected but connected

The problem, however, is that while Americans are disconnected from the farm, they’re “plugged in” in plenty of other ways. Access to information is easier than ever, and anyone can find facts that support whatever narrative they’re trying to fill. It’s hard for the average consumer to separate fact from fiction when researching anything, let alone ag topics. Go online and try to get a clear definition of the words “sustainable” or “organic.” Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Telling (and controlling) the ag story is more important than ever because of all the available misinformation and pre-formed opinions floating out there in space. Farmers and ranchers have a big enough job feeding a growing world; they don’t have the time or resources to educate consumers about the realities of ag – let alone educate about why much of the available information is misleading.

Telling the ag story

But ag is a story that needs to be told. Stories teach us lessons; they lead to questions, which lead to answers, which lead to better and more useful understanding of complex topics. You can give people facts and bullet points. But telling a story is how you’ll really connect. There’s a reason that the new Star Wars movie is more than just a PowerPoint presentation.

We live in an age where consumers want to “experience” everything. They want the most out of every experience, and education is no different. Spin your yarn, and the people will follow you anywhere.

Know your story circle

For a story to connect, it has to be told to the right people. Your cynical grandpa who only loves Ken Burns documentaries probably isn’t going to be into the new Minions flick. But Minions made a jillion dollars because it found the right eyeballs. It knew its audience, and told them the story they would relate to.

Talking to your audience in the right language is just as critical as finding your target audience. You need to understand the consumers’ needs and wants, and that requires research. If you know your audience wants products made with “sustainable ag,” you should first know that audience’s education level. Do they truly understand what “sustainable” means? Or should your story’s main focus be education about the term? If you know your audience’s mindset and education level on a topic, you can connect with them on their level, making the story personal and relatable. Make the audience the main character; it’s their journey.

Not to beat the Star Wars analogy to death, but the reason the franchise has prevailed for 40 years is because everyone has a main character they identify with. The poor kid who craves adventure. The loveable rogue. The stalwart princess. And yes, the misunderstood bad guy. When telling the ag story, you don’t have to have so many relatable angles, but if you can find that common ground, the audience will follow you anywhere.

Even to a cornfield in a Midwestern state far, far, away.