A New Focus

I made a quick switch in plans on Sunday. And sometimes making a change in your schedule can make all the difference in the world.

The change? I went to lunch. Not just any lunch, but the Women’s Leadership luncheon. And the difference that was made in my life was inspired by one of the greatest women that I have had the pleasure to meet, Debbie Lyons-Blythe.

She spoke at the luncheon, talking about her role as America’s Farm Mom for 2012, and other projects and programs, but the message that resonated most came from her talking about her advocacy efforts in agriculture. And it spoke to me directly.

As Debbie so bluntly put it, “It’s no longer just about telling our story, we need to start answering questions.”

I need I hear that and read that daily. I need to start answering more questions. Don’t get me wrong, I will still need to write my familiar family stories, including my own voice, but I cannot be afraid to answer the questions that are asked.

The new year has just begun, and I believe that I may have finally found a resolution worth keeping: I will answer more questions.

And as a mother of four boys, I’m pretty sure I have experience in that.

wagfarms is Val Wagner, a North Dakota farmer and rancher. The Wag’n Tales blog features stories from this mom of four who loves farm life and invites readers to come along for the ride. Follow Val on Twitter (@wagfarms) and find her on Facebook. She is a member of the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s Promotion & Education Committee.

Social Media Is Powerful

I went to two breakout sessions at the AFBF Conference on Sunday. Both talked about the importance of engaging with consumers. The overarching message was that consumers want to know more, but they don’t know where to turn to get the information.

One of the sessions talked about using “traditional” media like radio, newspapers, and television as a way to tell our story. Another talked about books and documentaries. All of these media outlets have a place. But the importance of social media and blogging was greatly downplayed in both sessions..

The speakers focused on one group of “mommy bloggers” – those who may not have an agriculture connection, but are very passionate about the food choices they make for their families. This group of bloggers can be very vocal and very influential. Sometimes, their opinions are contrary to what those of us in the trenches of agriculture believe.

And that’s OK.

That’s what blogging is for – it’s a venue for someone to share their thoughts, opinions, and passions. All bloggers are looking for a community of like-minded people to talk to. Many of us want to reach outside our immediate circle of friends and try to talk to people with opinions that are different from ours.

What both speakers missed out on, though, is that there is a large community of ag bloggers.

There are plenty of “mommy bloggers” who are also “food bloggers,” and even better, “farm bloggers.” These women (and men) are also very influential! Check out The Real Farmwives of America And Friends. Like Rockin’ Rural Women on Facebook. Check out an #agchat on Twitter one Tuesday night. Just do a Google search for “farm blog” and start reading! It won’t take you long to find and get to know some of these amazing farm bloggers.

Traditional media outlets are very important in telling our farm story. But who can tell your story better than you? Social media and blogging can be a very powerful way to tell your story and to share your farm with the questioning public. Using these media outlets is the only way you can be sure that your farm is portrayed in your voice, with accuracy and integrity, the way you want it to be seen.

Not sure where to start? Log into Facebook and share some pictures of your daily farm chores. You’ll be surprised at some of the comments and questions you’ll get from just showing what you do every day! If you want more resources, check out Ohio Farm Bureau’s Social Media Guide. Touch base with your state’s Farm Bureau office, or the American Farm Bureau to see what other help they can offer. Or just ask the teenager in your life to show you the ropes!

Social media is a huge platform where we can tell our ag story. Consumers are starting to learn more about where their food comes from. With every bit of knowledge they gain, they are hungry for even more. Why not give them what they are looking for, and spread a positive image of agriculture at the same time?

alarmclockwars is Marybeth Feutz, DVM, of Indiana. She and her husband, John, have a beef cattle farm and work together in their family’s veterinary practice. She is a member of the Indiana Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Committee. Check out her blogs: Alarm Clock Wars (http://www.alarmclockwars.com/) and AgriCultured — Where People Who Eat Get Their Food Questions Answered (http://www.agricultured.org/about/). Find her on Twitter (@AlarmClockWars).

Farm Women Telling Our Story

Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the AFBF Women’s Communication Boot Camp. This was an intensive communications training workshop with Farm Bureau women from all over the country. We were trained in how to interview with newspaper and radio personalities, how to give a speech, how to testify in front of legislators, and how to use social media to tell our stories and show what happens on our farms.

Have you seen the AFBF booth in the trade show?

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Yep, that’s me! I was taking my “final exam” at boot camp and giving a radio interview.

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The skills I learned and connections I made at Boot Camp were invaluable. I have taken my blogs (Alarm Clock Wars and AgriCultured) and social media presence to places I never would have thought before. It also gave me the confidence to be able to do an interview with Brownfield Ag News about how to take care of animals during the extremely cold temperatures we had recently.

Did you know that consumers trust moms the most when they are making food choices for their families? They trust farm moms even more.

If you have been thinking about getting more involved in sharing what goes on at your farm, this is the time.

Are you afraid to jump in and get your feet wet? Do you just need a little more reassurance before you get started? Do you have some basic skills, but want to sharpen them a little more? Then the Communications Boot Camp is for you! Stop by the AFBF booth at the trade show to learn more about it!       

alarmclockwars is Marybeth Feutz, DVM, of Indiana. She and her husband, John, have a beef cattle farm and work together in their family’s veterinary practice. She is a member of the Indiana Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Committee. Check out her blogs: Alarm Clock Wars (http://www.alarmclockwars.com/) and AgriCultured — Where People Who Eat Get Their Food Questions Answered (http://www.agricultured.org/about/). Find her on Twitter (@AlarmClockWars).

Getting to Know Animal Expert Jack Hanna

I wrote this post about top ten things I learned about Jack Hanna for my blog and thought I’d share here too since the post was enabled by being at the AFBF Annual Meeting. 

There are people who through TV seem to have always been a part of your life but you rarely get to look behind the curtain so to speak, and see what kind of people they are. I have had the chance to meet various people through conventions or pure happenstance and I have to say that animal expert Jack Hanna has probably made the most lasting impression.

Let me explain my encounters with Jack Hanna though before I get to the top 10 things I learned or thought of as I traveled home from AFBF13.

penguins at a pancake breakfastObviously, I have seen him on TV for years (I am a Letterman fan). But last year in Hawaii he came to the American Farm Bureau meeting and gave talks in the trade show. I caught one of his presentations and thought that was nice.

This year’s Farm Bureau took it to the next level as I heard him do a longer, more personal presentation during a pancake breakfast on Sunday. Throughout the trade show I saw him doing his presentation too (my favorite part was the two-toed sloth – loved the fur and the fact it sleeps all day, afterall, I have a deep love of morning sleep). Finally, I saw he and his wife at the airport.

So now the top 10 which will shed more light on the encounter. Please know that I don’t know for certain Jack Hanna’s story, but these are things I have running through my mind.

  1. He has followed his passion. Early in life he realized he had a real passion for animals and he found a way to make that his career. Too few of us are able to figure that out and follow a path that lets us practice our passion routinely. I am blessed to get a paycheck for doing things I’m truly passionate about too. He first cultivated the passion while working for the family’s veterinarian in the Knoxville area, he’s had a pet store and directed the Columbus Zoo.
  2. His passion is always evident. If you have ever seen Jack Hanna do a guest spot on a TV show, you have seen the excitement he shows whenever he has animals around him and is especially excitement to share information about them in a way that people remember and love. Love the enthusiasm.
  3. Hanna has a deep love of his family. Throughout his stories, he spoke to various things that involved his family. You could tell he’s in a good place. And what’s really cool is that as I came through the airport, his wife Sue seemed the same pointing out small things like where he’s from as she chatted with fellow passengers. I love celebrating the new accomplishments of my board-certified teaching sis, sharing a school project with one nephew or taking a niece for her first farm trip. I hope that as I talk about them, people see the connections!
  4. He knows what is truly important and acts on it. One of the stories he told on Sunday that was especially touching was about how he came to be connected to the sponsor of the event, Nationwide Insurance. His connection to the company is much deeper than sponsorship. He said he owed them eternal gratitude as the company is responsible for his daughter’s health after a serious illness since they are major supporters of the Columbus Children’s Hospital.Jack Hanna & me
  5. He is generous with his time. Throughout the show, Hanna posed for photos, signed autographs, etc. At the airport, it was the same. He stopped, pulled photos from his bag and signed one to each of the TSAs who wanted one. They were thrilled. And as you can see, he was nice enough to do the same for several of us. I mentioned that my nephew has always loved animals and used to dream of being a zookeeper. He asked his name & wrote out an autograph.
  6. When action is required, he gives it his best shot and learns from mistakes. When he was talking about working for a vet as a teenager, he told the story of his being the only person there as a cow had trouble calving. And while he was on the phone with the vet finding out what needed to be done, it became clear that he’d have to do it. Pulling a calf is hard (so I hear and this AgProud post explains why calving season is tough) and he hadn’t done it. He listened to the directions & worried about having to do it but went ahead. While he made a mistake (he said he ended up pulling the back legs instead of the front legs), it all turned out okay.
  7. There is a genuineness with he and his wife. I guess I’ve sort of pointed to this already in part, but, I love that the Hannas were really talking with whoever they were with.  As he talked to some TSAs, she chatted with another passenger who was sure his daughters would be pumped about the run-in. She then complimented me on my necklace — yep, it is a cotton boll piece I bought at Beltwide.  When I mentioned I worked for Monsanto, he remarked he had noticed us at the show.
  8. He is willing to put his time toward things that are important. He thinks animal conservation is important too and its obvious that he’s done incredible amounts of work to raise the profile Sunday’s breakfast was to support agriculture education programs like My American Farm.
  9. He knows there is middle ground in topics that sometimes get polarized. It was interesting to me that he brought up the issues happening now with wolves. He says wolves are problems on farms & ranches, mainly because people keep encroaching on their habitats with suburbanization. But he also understands that when wolves begin to attack humans, control efforts will get put into place. He wants to do what is fair and right.
  10. Schedules are different for a lot of city folks and farmers. One of the very first things he told us has stuck with me. He mentioned Saturday evening as he left for Nashville that he had a 7 a.m. breakfast talk to give and the guy said asked who in the world would come to hear a speaker that early. Hanna enjoyed pointing out that farmers are up early all the time — they have to put in long days to feed all of us! So true.

I really encourage you to follow him on TV and social media. You can find Jack Hanna on:

Janice AKA JPLovesCotton is Janice Person, a city girl who loves cotton and biotechnology. Her work at Monsanto includes blogging and social media outreach. A colorful adventure is her personal blog. Follow her on Twitter (@JPLovesCotton). .

A Little Slice of History

This morning, my husband and I took time out of our jam-packed schedule to stop and have a few minutes of our morning archived for future generations.

What am I talking about?

We were given the opportunity to have a 40 minute interview recorded through Story Corps, and it will be archived in the Library of Congress. Talk about an amazing opportunity.

The only issue we had? Apparently if you take a cell phone and cover it in foam, my normally talkative husband clams up. That’s right, Mr. Social seemed to have an issue with keeping a conversation going with me. But never fear, the wonderful woman assisting us jumped in at the right moments, helping him open up and tell even more wonderful stories.

The best part of all was knowing that this information will be recorded for all of posterity, allowing our children, our grandchildren and even their grandchildren the opportunity to hear our thoughts, memories and plans for the future. It’s not every day that you get an opportunity like that, and we have Farm Bureau to thank for it.

If you ever have an opportunity to tell your story, be sure to do it. Not just your plans for the future, but where you’ve been, how you made it to where you are—including the trials and tribulations.

Amazing moments in amazing places—it’s the Farm Bureau way.

wagfarms is Val Wagner, a North Dakota farmer and rancher. The Wag’n Tales blog features stories from this mom of four who loves farm life and invites readers to come along for the ride. Follow Val on Twitter (@wagfarms) and find her on Facebook. She is a member of the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s Promotion & Education Committee.