Learning About Advocating From An Unlikely Source

Last year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the EMF Nutrition (now Masterfeeds) team to attend their parent company, Alltech‘s ONE, their annual IDEAS conference.

One of the first speakers at the Alltech ONE conference in Lexington, Kentucky took me buy surprise. John Calipari, head coach of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team was more than inspirational. I expected him to speak about how to lead people. I expected him to talk a lot of sports talk. I DID NOT expect just how relevant his talk would be to how I advocate for agriculture.  

His title was ONE and DONE: Teaching skills in a year that will last a lifetime. I certainty hope that his tips will stay with my for my lifetime. Here are a few of his nuggets that I found directly applicable to advocating for agriculture.

“Build strong relationships built on trust and respect.”

“We have to undersell and over deliver, because the minute one thing you say is not true, or doesn’t happen the way you said, the trust is lost.”

This caught my attention in a BIG way. He, of course, was talking about maintaining the relationship and trust with his players. To me, this was all about the trust between farmers and consumers. We have all felt the dissipation of the relationship between farmers and consumers, and I believe we have also struggled as an agriculture community to find ways to bring that trust back. This golden nugget speaks directly to how we must engage with consumers – with complete honesty, even if it isn’t always a pretty answer. Whether it is antibiotic use, pesticide rotations or the simple question of “Does it hurt a young calf to be branded?”, consumers MUST be told the truth. Trust is hard to develop, tough to maintain, but almost impossible to regain if lost altogether. Sugar coating with dishonesty may feel easier in the short term, and we all have done it at some point (I know I have), but it gets us nowhere. That’s not true, it doesn’t just get us nowhere, it actually gets us further back from where we started. I think we all knew this, it has been in the back of my mind for a very long time, but sometimes it takes an inspirational guy like John Calipari to remind us of just how important it is.

“Social Media is vital, but we must train our players. That’s our world now. Why? Transparency. We must inform but we also must react. But remember: It cannot replace face to face interaction. Face to Face is the ONLY way to judge the effect of your words.”

Wow. Yes. True true true. I LOVE the number of fellow farmers on social media. I LOVE the way we are engaging with consumers. But we could do so much more with some training. Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/ Snapchat are so very easy while simultaneously being so very hard. I want to learn more, be better, and engage more. I want to be transparent, even when it’s hard. But I also can’t forget the face to face. It is very easy to get comfortable behind a screen and forget how darn fun it is to meet people! I had 3 flights to get down to this conference, and I challenged myself to engage with each of my seat mates. Well, the first one slept (I think – it was 5:30am, my own eyes may or may not have been closed), the second one was VERY uninterested in a conversation, but the third was a great interaction! She was a very (very) well off housewife (I actually looked up Real Housewives of Atlanta’s cast to see if she was on it. Nope.). She wanted to talk mostly about eggs, but we had an awesome talk about what organic, natural, hormones and antibiotic labels all mean. She had no agenda, and neither did I. I picked her brain about what label she looks for at the grocery store vs what she actually wants. She picked my brain about what farm life is really like. Face to face is so much more powerful!

“Listen more, talk less. Show that you truly care.”

If there is one thing about the whole Earls beef fiasco, it is that as an industry, we need to listen better. I need to listen better. I find it very easy to lead with anger, and place a very strong defensive wall between myself and people who are asking for something I do not agree with. It helps no one. Not that person, not myself, and not the beef industry that I love so much. Just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take the time to listen. Every time.

“Kindness costs you nothing”

This can never be said enough. Kindness to consumers and kindness to each other. I costs me nothing to say that organic farming may not work for our farm, but there are some great farmers out there that it does work for. It costs me nothing to prep vegan dishes for a vegetarian friend. Leading with kindness will never, ever be a bad thing. 
As I read over my notes from this speaker, I was yet again amazed my just how applicable a basketball coach’s words were to my life. It took me a while to sort through it all in my head, but I was finally able to make sense of it. You see, he is the leader of a team, and that is just what all of agriculture is – A TEAM. We may all have different roles and skills, but when farmers work together we are unstoppable. Whether you are an organic farmer from Vancouver or a canola grower in Davidson or a dairy FarmHer outside Ottawa, we are all producing excellent high quality food. You are all on my team. A team that I count my blessings every day to be a part of. 

And now, as I am heading back down to Lexington, Kentucky for Alltech’s next conference, I cannot wait to see what nuggets I will bring back with me this time. Stay tuned for this Northern Girl’s Southern Adventures!! 

Check out info on this year’s ONE conference here

Tisdale’s New Slogan Breaks My Farming Heart

I am so very proud to have grown up on a farm just outside of Tisdale, Saskatchewan. I have always said Tisdale is the perfect sized rural town – small enough to still feel small town, large enough to have all the amenities you really need. Like many Saskatchewan towns, Tisdale thrives on agriculture. The schools are full of farm kids, and the businesses rely on farm families as customers. 

I travel across Western Canada speaking about agriculture, and why farmers need to share their stories with the public. I consider myself to be an Agvocate – someone who speaks positively for agriculture. One of the (many) reasons I still feel so connected to my hometown is that Tisdale, and it’s unconventional slogan, made me an Agvocate long before it was even a word. 

You see, Tisdale’s slogan “Land of Rape and Honey” was always something people talked about. There were great conversations had from Toronto to Saskatoon about it. I have been explaining the connection between rapeseed and canola for decades. 

Rapeseed and its more popular cousin canola (see the difference between the two here), grow incredibly well in the Tisdale area. Grain farmers have grown both crops here with huge success. Rapeseed and Canola are a beautiful yellow flowered crop. And guess who loves flowers? Yep, honeybees. Beekeepers are abundant in the Tisdale area, due in large part to vast fields of rapeseed and canola that the bees thrive on, producing some of the best darn honey in the world! (I may be a little biased here…) 

Tisdale has now changed their slogan. Their Land of Rape and Honey days are over. They have reacted to the questions and side-eye glances by removing the controversy, and it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart because I am a proud farmer. Proud of what I grow and proud to answer any questions about it. It breaks my heart because I am a proud Tisdale girl. Proud of my roots, proud of my homeland, and proud to answer any questions about it. And finally, it breaks my heart because I am a proud marketer. I love all things marketing, and how words can move mountains. And in my mind, this slogan change is not a good marketing move. 

The purpose of a town slogan is to make your town memorable. To make it stand out from the thousands of other small rural communities. I think everyone can agree that Land of Rape and Honey accomplished this. From PEI to BC, I have had people ask where I am from, and when I say Tisdale, more often than not they immediately respond with the infamous slogan. Love it, hate it, understand it or not, Tisdale’s slogan was MEMORABLE. It was unique, applicable, memorable and often spoke of. All things of a perfect marketing campaign. 

Can we say the same about their new slogan? 

Earls Restaurants Has Opened the Door to Canadian Beef… Now What?

My Twitter feed exploded this morning with the news of Earls latest beef announcement:

“We made a mistake when we moved away from Canadian beef.” says Earls President, Mo Jessa.”We want to make this right. We want Canadian beef back on our menus so we are going to work with local ranchers to build our supply of Alberta beef that meets our criteria.”

See their full press release here.

This comes after an uproar over Earls decision to source all of its beef supply from Kansas based Creekstone Farms, in order to “Ethically Source” from a Certified Humane supplier who was also 100% antibiotic and added hormone free. I wrote about this decision last week here. Cattle producers across Canada were outraged by the insinuation that Canadian beef is not raised humanely. The hashtag #boycottearls was born, and farmers and consumers united to show Earls just how important Canadian beef is to them.

When I first heard the news, I did the kind of awkward happy dance that you pray that no one will ever see. The idea that the Canadian beef community not only has a voice, but also how incredibly supportive Canadian consumers were (and are!) filled my heart with joy. Knowing that my voice helped create this change was icing on the cake. But me being me, I had to look closer at what this actually means.

Earls posted this on the their Facebook page:

Earls fans, we’re listening to you. We made a mistake and we’re sorry. It was wrong to move away from Canadian Beef and we want to make it right. Earls will get Canadian Beef back on the menu. We are going back to Aspen Ridge and will work hard to source as much ‪#‎CanadianBeef that meets our criteria as possible.

For anyone that read my post that went a little viral last week, you will know that my biggest beef (no pun intended!) with Earls’ decision was the lack of integrity in their marketing. Conciously using words like “Humane”, putting emphasis on “antibiotics and added hormones”, instead of postive promotion of great food, is what is what I had issues with. From their statement above, this has not changed. They say that Canadian beef will be back on their menus, but are only willing to work with one small supplier in order to maintain their marketing buzz word sourcing. Earls themselves have said that Aspen Ridge cannot supply enough beef to fully service even one of their Alberta restaurants. Can we consider this move of opening the door a crack to allow a small amount of Canadian beef into their restaurants meaningful change? Or just more meaningless marketing jargon? Only time will tell.

Admitting you are wrong is never easy, and is a huge step for any company. I give full credit to Earls for taking that first step. But that is not the end. This is one win in the war against fear based marketing.

Earls has opened the door, just a crack, to Canadian beef. It is now our job as Canadian beef producers to open that door wider, engage in meaningful conversations with both Earls and consumers, and discuss the realities and truths of Canadian beef production. Let’s not let this storyline ride off into the sunset – we need to keep up the important work of talking with consumers and restaurants alike about how and why we are raising the best darn beef available in the world.

cows sunset

See the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association statement here

This Canadian Rancher’s Take on Earls’ Beef Campaign 

Earls Kitchen and Bar has set the Canadian farming world all a-twitter.  The restaurant chain has recently launched a new marketing campaign promoting their latest development in beef  – “Certified Humane” raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones and steroids.


I don’t (didn’t) mind Earls as a dining option. Up until now, they sourced their beef for their 56 Canadian restaurants here, in Canada. They have great summertime patios, and they make fantastic Caesars. Their head office is in Vancouver, and their first ever location was started in 1982 in Edmonton, Alberta. Sounds good, right? Then suddenly their marketing took a turn that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Their first words of their sourcing strategy label their beef as “Certified Humane”, which struck immediate warning bells for me. As a beef producer, I have had the opportunity to visit and tour MANY cattle farms. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the vast majority of Canadian Beef farms and ranches are raising their cattle in a humane way. We are ranchers for a reason – we like working with animals every day. I have no issue with weeding out the “bad apples” that are bound to turn up in any industry, but these bad farmers are so uncommon, I cannot imagine the need to base your entire purchasing decision around them. I visited the http://certifiedhumane.org website and most specifically their producer page. On the page directed towards the farmers who would use their certification process, there was zero information on what they considered “humane”, zero mention of how becoming certified humane would benefit a farmer’s animals, zero mention of ways to make a farm more humane for it’s animals. So what was the producer page for? Sales. It was touted as a way to sell more product. End of story. Andrew Campbell wrote an article for Real Agriculture about what exactly certified humane means… not much. To top this one off – Canada already has steps to make sure our animals are raised humanely. The Canadian Beef Code of Practices is something each and every one of us take pride in, something we follow because it is the right thing to do, not because we get paid more money for it.

So there’s that. I moved on a few words to “without the use of antibiotics”. This is perhaps the most terrifying marketing catch phrase in my mind. Why? Because this directly impacts animal welfare. I fully believe that healthy animals begin with prevention. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is completely true. The problem is that all sickness cannot be eradicated with prevention alone. Just like people, animals get sick sometimes, it’s a fact of life. Any program that rewards the decision to withhold medication has the potential to have a huge negative impact on animal welfare. Last year, Subway in the USA announced it was going to start sourcing only meat raised without the use of antibiotics. There was an uproar from the agricultural community, explaining the need for (and ethics in using) antibiotics. Subway soon saw the error in their strategy, and reversed their decision. Perhaps Earls could learn something from this. I will stand by the fact that just as I would with my children, if an animal on our ranch falls ill, I will give it the necessary medicine. It would be cruel if I didn’t.

And finally, “no added hormones or steroids”. This I have spoken about many times. With the use of proven  safe methods, including hormones, Canadian farmers are now able produce MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly LESS resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (15% less greenhouse gasses). I wrote about this HERE. Can we produce beef without hormone implants? Sure. But why choose to do less with more if it is a proven, safe, efficient method? To learn more about hormone use in beef read here or here.

To top all of this information off, Earls has switched from using Canadian Beef to sourcing 100% of their beef from one operation (Creekstone Farms) in Kansas. While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, it does make me wonder about how consistent Earls quality of choice cuts, like steak, could possibly be. Many restaurants that serve top quality beef will go with a large suppliers top label. Cargill, for example, has their Sterling Beef brand – which has quality specifications (marbeling, grade and aging) so high that under 12 percent of the beef through their plant is accepted. That is a HUGE amount of beef that is sorted through to chose only the best. If you are starting out with a much smaller number, your top percentage will reflect that. Even beef that was raised and fed the same will have large differences in quality – it is an issue within the beef industry. I cannot understand why a restaurant like Earls would choose to limit their options in this way. oh, and did I mention that said Creekstone Farms, while has some feel – good marketing surrounding it, is actually owned by Sun Capital Partners. From their twitter profile: Sun Capital Partners is a leading private investment firm focused on leveraged buyouts, private equity, debt and other investments in market-leading companies. Now don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe there is nothing wrong with outside investment in agriculture, just as much as I believe large farms can be as great as small farms, but that sentence (of truth) gives you a completely different feeling than their logo must intend.


So all of this makes me wonder. It makes me question when restaurants and retailers will start marketing their food based on true quality, not catch phrases and gimmicks. When will real, honest, good food win out? Because there is one thing I know about great steak – it speaks for itself.

Adrienne Ivey – Canadian Rancher, Mom and Blogger