We've seen something pretty remarkable on a global scale in the past week. A wide range of folks unhappy with their government have marshaled the forces of social media to build a crowd of supporters that is causing change in the government. Egypt is a potent example of the power of technology to bring people together, and to explain positions to effect change.
Even when the Egyptian government turned off the cell phones and the Internet, these folks found a way to get their message out to the world through innovative work-arounds, and finding the few people that had Internet still up and running in the country. So what does that mean for U.S. agriculture.
Last week, a powerful media figure - Oprah Winfrey - took her next steps in her ever-evolving dialogue on America's diet. And this time her hard-left turn toward veganism came not only as a surprise but also from a source whose followers can truly make a difference. And again agriculture had to play catch-up. Only this time we had the resources of social media to help tell our story.
This is a significant technological change, showing that even a minority of folks - that would be you dear farmer - can push out a message to balance someone's fad-of-the-week approach to life's challenges. As someone who believes in science-based reasoning focused on solving critical problems, like say, feeding the world, I feel the harnessing of computer technology to tell agriculture's story is important.
I'm getting a little preachy here, but if Oprah's vegan diatribe or the anti-GMO crowd's less that fact-based attack on biotech alfalfa rule the day then commercial, high-tech agriculture will falter. We need technology to feed the world. It needs to be appropriately applied technology based on sound science. But we also need to be open to choice. The consumer should have the right to choose between the vegan diet and the diet that includes animal products. The choice between organic and conventional should be there too (hey, a lot of smart farmers profit nicely from organics). An all-or-nothing approach to the American diet does no one any good in the long run.
There's a new responsibility here for farmers, one that's not easy to accept for a group made of quiet, hard-working individuals. You have to find ways to tell your story. From making sure city-based landowners you rent from know that what you do makes sense for the land and the future. To being open to having farm tours at your place (within the bounds of a proper science-based herd security program) to show how food is raised.
And you need to put a face on your farm. Last week, I talked about building your own website. You could start by simply creating a Facebook Fan Page for your farm and driving your landowners and friends there to see what's happening at your place. That's simple to do, and there's help at www.facebook.com. Or start a Twitter account and follow a few key people that talk about agriculture. They're easy to find, once on Twitter just search for the hashtag #agchat or #farm to see what other's are saying.
This new-fangled way to tell your story has potential. Reach out to consumers, and tell your story. You're the one that's responsible for the environment, and you're doing a fine job. But a lot of people don't know it...yet.