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