Agriculture is especially important to those involved in the production of food, fiber and shelter not only for the livelihood it provides them, but for the lifestyle that comes with it.
But how long will this lifestyle be around if the general public continues to know and understand less about agriculture?
Janeal Yancey, a UA Department of Animal Science staff member, spoke to students, faculty and staff at the AECT Department Awards Banquet on March 10 about the role agricultural educators and communicators play in perpetuating the lifestyle of agriculture.
Yancey, who also helped to organize the Moms on the Farm tour hosted each semester by the Bumpers College and University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, related her personal experiences of telling the story of agriculture. The Moms on the Farm tour connects moms in the Northwest Arkansas area to local farms and farmers to help them gain a better understanding of agricultural practices.
"We wanted to do more than just take these ladies to farms," said Yancey. "We wanted to start a relationship with them and personalize farming."
Yancey reminded attendees of the fact that consumers are now over three generations removed from the farm.
"Seventy-eight percent of consumers admit they know nothing about agriculture," said Yancey.
But to Yancey these are just the symptoms of a problem that those involved with agriculture have to face.
"It’s easy to get caught up in the facts and the stats and the sound bytes about how uninformed our consumer population is, but what does that really mean?" said Yancey.
Yancey related two experiences from the Moms on the Farm tour to the crowd about what it means to be uninformed about agriculture. Briefly, one experience included an individual on the tour asking a cattle producer if she sold her cattle to Walmart, and the other was about an individual who asked a dairy farmer when she took vacation from her dairy.
"Someone always asks them, ‘Why?’," said Yancey. "‘Why do you keep farming if it’s so hard and not always profitable? Why is it worth that trouble?’"
But according to Yancey, that is the perfect time to build a relationship and help them understand agriculture.
"I love it when they ask that question," said Yancey, "because then you can look at them and say, ‘It’s because we love the lifestyle. We love the way of life farming provides for us.’"
For Yancey it is about communicating that farming is more than a job.
"It is a job, but it’s a way of life," said Yancey.
Furthermore, Yancey sees food as more than just a way for consumers to gain nutrients.
"We don’t buy food in this country to satisfy our hunger," said Yancey. "We buy food to satisfy our souls."
Consumers are more concerned with the story behind food than just having food, according to Yancey.
"People don’t want a steak or chicken breast or a gallon of milk–they want a story," said Yancey.
The role of telling this story falls to the agriculture industry, and Yancey sees an opportunity for agricultural educators and communicators to help fill that role.
"The first step of communication is to listen," said Yancey. "And this is where [agriculture] needs your help as agricultural communicators."
Yancey noted how agricultural scientists have good answers to the questions consumers pose, but the best way to tell consumers these answers is through agricultural educators and communicators.
"We know the answers to why we do what we do," said Yancey. "But what I’ve found is there is a huge disconnect between the question and the answer."
"We love to answer the questions we think they have, but it may not be what the consumers are really worried about," said Yancey.
Yancey reiterated the need for agricultural educators and communicators to tackle the task of addressing the needs of the consumer.
"If we’re not answering the questions consumers really have, then we are not doing as much good as we can," said Yancey.
More information on the Moms on the Farm tour can be found at https://www.facebook.com/MomsOnTheFarmTour.