It's vitally important for farmers to use whatever soap box they have — whether it's social media, a blog or just talking to folks at the grocery store or at church — to get the message to those with no farming background about why farmers do what they do.
Katie Pratt said she supports the fact that we all have the right to have a say "with civility and respect."
Sometimes what happens on social media can be less than civil but farmers owe it to their industry and its future to try to set the record straight and break through some of those barriers, she said.
Pratt and her husband farm near Dixon, IL, growing corn, soybeans and seed crops. She is one of several farmers who were selected as "faces of farming" speakers after a national search by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.
She spoke at the recent Corn/Soy Expo in Wisconsin Dells, an event that was attended by a record 1,800 farmers, agricultural business and support people.
"There's room at the table for everyone. This is about your farm. This is about your agriculture community," she said. "You are responsible to tell your story."
In a survey of Americans in the general public, 75 percent said they like farmers and ranchers, however 50 percent said "agriculture is headed down the wrong road."
"It's not a commentary on what we do but on the process," Pratt said. "We are all responsible to talk about what we do."
To get the word out to more people about the role farmers play in society, the alliance in planning town hall style meetings and "food dialogues" in cities and urban areas to "give people a platform to talk."
Since it's a massive task to influence the public as a whole, there is also an emphasis in trying to reach "food influencers" — people who can shape the opinions of others.
After she was selected as one of the spokespersons for the group, Pratt said she began by "doing a lot of listening" and she has headed out on the road for 2014.
"One audience that 'gets us' is restaurant owners. We have what they need. It's our business. But they have consumers on the other side asking about how we do things; asking about things like grass-fed beef."
One of the biggest "wins" that came out of this dialogue was the comment from the head chef of the Marriott chain, she said. The chef said he really wished they had talked to hog farmers before they made their decision on gestation crates.
"That was really a big aha moment," Pratt said.
While these efforts to reach out to those who aren't part of the agriculture community are important, Pratt said she sees value in also "needing to preach to the choir" as well. Farmers and those in agriculture need to hear about what's going on in the world and how to get their message out.
She said farmers don't have to be bloggers or have a microphone in their hands to tell their story. It can be as simple as connecting with another shopper in the grocery store.
"I hope you'll take a little time to think about your farm's story."
One of the other tools the alliance is using to get out the word about the farming community is the documentary "Farmland" that follows six young farmers who are embarking on their careers in agriculture.
Made by Academy Award-winning director James Moll and Allentown Productions, the film details the high-risk livelihoods that farmers and ranchers live with – especially if they are just getting started.
The film, which will be released in March 2014, follows the next generation of American farmers and ranchers, all in their 20s. It was produced with the support of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.
For more information on the production, see www.Farmlandfilm.com.
Pratt showed a clip of the film to her Corn/Soy audience. There will be a private showing of the film in Madison on March 27 and there will be an open showing in Milwaukee for the general public.