Who can tell your ‘story’ best?

Farmers are often in the best position to deal with consumer confusion and inaccurate perceptions.

By Judie Steeves T

he closest most consumers get to the source of their food is the grocery store, so their decisions about what food they eat is based on where the grocery store is, rather than on who grew their food. That’s the warning of Andrew Campbell, a journalist and dairy farmer from Ontario who is passionate about the importance of getting an accurate message about farming out to consumers.

“If we don’t tell our story then others will, and it might not be the story we’d like told,” he advised a group of farmers recently.

Although people today are much more interested in where their food comes from, they are also inundated with choices in the market and often confused about labels such as natural, free-run, low-fat, farm-raised, gluten- free, whole-grain, non-dairy, preservative-free, eco-friendly and sustainable.

“The poor consumer doesn’t know what to think. He’s confused. More and more, food is being marketed as (just) good or bad too,” he comments. Although he reports that people are more concerned today about what goes into their food and they do trust farmers, on the whole, he says their image of a farmer is quite different from the reality of it.

While they see a romantic image of men wearing straw hats and carrying wicker baskets full of colourful produce, it’s more likely to be a woman in a ball cap operating a computerized piece of machinery.

It’s all about perception.

“Our stories don’t exist unless we tell them; and if we don’t tell them, consumers will begin to believe other people’s stories about us,” he warned, noting that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is a business just like farming is a business. It’s important that farmers understand what the consumer sees

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when he perceives a farmer, because it could be quite different from what a farmer sees. What the consumer sees is not necessarily what we actually do, he warned.

He suggested that social media are useful for the industry to tell its stories, but not the only way to do it. Since today

agriculture is not taught in school, Campbell suggested farmers make arrangements to tell a class in school the story of their farm. Today, that can be done in front of a computer linked up with a school, so you don’t need to lose most of the day travelling to the city to attend class in person. When telling your story, don’t bother trying to explain all the technical details of what you do or what makes your farm’s food safe or good. Provide your story in the form of the great image of your farm and its products.


Andrew Campbell speaks at the Investment Agriculture Foundation’s Showcase of B.C. Projects event.

Tell the story about why you farm: that it’s because you like the work, or you’re satisfied by sharing the good food you grow; or you like the healthy family lifestyle of living on the farm and growing food, he advised.

“Dig down and find your emotions. That will help you connect with consumers.

“If we don’t have this conversation with the consumer, we will fall behind. No one else is going to do it for us. “We have to tell people how proud we are to do what we do.”

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