Building Bridges: Improving conversations on food and farming
By Crystal Mackay
An ongoing series on building bridges to better conversations on food and farming.
By Crystal Mackay
Do you remember when you first heard the term ‘rural-urban gap’? I experienced it first-hand when I volunteered to visit classrooms to talk about dairy farming when I was in high school. I was shocked that the kids in our very rural area didn’t know where milk came from, even though they drove by farms or even knew people who farmed.
Fast forward a few decades. The gaps have grown well beyond rural-urban and are all over the map – between farmers and consumers; between types of farms; between regions and sectors across the food system. So what, you might ask. What does it matter if our food system isn’t connected internally or externally?
The foundation for trust and support for our food system is best built through relationships and connections. Conversations lead to better understanding up and down supply chains and right through to the person who eats.
The logical approach to gaps is to build a bridge. According to Webster, we need bridges to help us get over obstacles and serve as a means of connection. Like many problems, the first step is acknowledging we have one and then preparing to do something about it. So, how best to build bridges to better conversations and relationships on food and farming?
A good place to start is with what doesn’t work. Experience in pioneering agriculture awareness work proves, and Canadian Centre for Food Integrity research backs it up, that people don’t want to be educated. Cramming all your facts and data into a lecture about poultry hasn’t worked yet – unless they signed up for a degree in agriculture. It’s important to note many people are interested in knowing a bit more about where their food comes from. “Wow, I didn’t know white eggs come from white hens.”
The second approach that hasn’t worked yet is arguing with people or having them defend their food choices, opinions or ideals. Forcing someone to defend a position will only make them more deeply commit to it, even if their logic can see that it may be flawed. This has become increasingly obvious with human health issues argued in public forums.
And finally, the third approach that hasn’t worked is sales and marketing thinking. Messages ‘brought to you by’ those that profit or including a sales pitch continue to be discarded and discounted more than ever. This is unfortunate, as those who work in the business often know the most about it. Farmers themselves continue to hold a halo effect as credible to most, even though they profit from their farmgate sales.
Moving on from what doesn’t work to what works – let’s have a conversation about food that can lead back to the farm. People love talking about food. It’s personal, fun and interesting. It’s not a commodity or an issue or a sector for the majority of people who don’t work in agriculture. And the good news is we all eat, so we have that in common!
Our communications up and down and across supply chains and with Canadians should be framed up as an authentic conversation. This includes listening. It’s an interesting phenomenon when engaging with someone that if you listen to them they will listen to you.
The best bridges don’t get built in a hurry, without a plan or expertise. The same holds true for better conversations and connections to lead to trust and support for food and agriculture in Canada.
This is the first installment in a series of columns by Crystal Mackay on building bridges to better conversations on food and farming. Watch for her follow up columns in future editions of Canadian Poultry.
Crystal Mackay is the CEO of Loft32, a company she co-founded with the goal to help elevate people, businesses and the conversations on food and farming. Her latest work includes an online training platform, www.utensil.ca with on-demand training programs and resources.