March 12, 2020

Moving beyond telling your story

Topic: Leadership

Editor's note: Heather Lang frequently shares her life on the farm and as a rural mom for NDFB's On Your Table site.

By Cyndie Shearing

“Tell your story” is a long-hailed strategy used by farmers and ranchers aiming to gain the trust of consumers who are curious about the food they eat. More recently, farmers including Heather Lang, a North Dakota grain grower and pig farmer, have deployed an up-to-date manifestation of this strategy.

Through a combination of social media posts, blogs and columns, Lang shares how she and her family provide healthy, high-quality food in a manner that aligns with societal values. That sounds good, but what does it really mean? A few examples are below.

In Failure Means You’re Trying, she wrote about checking on a sow (mother pig) that was about to give birth on a cold fall morning. Regular “barn checks” – often early in the morning and late at night – are high on the daily chore list for farmers who raise livestock for food. This type of commitment is all in a day’s work for Lang, who shares that her family’s pig farm is known as farrow-to-finish in farming circles, but she prefers to call it “birth-to-bacon.”

In Winter Storm Warnings on the Farm, she shared about monitoring the health of pigs on a regular basis as well as steps to prepare for an approaching storm. Her perseverance in ensuring that the pigs in her care were warm, safe and well-fed before a huge snowstorm blanketed the area is admirable. But Lang doesn’t think so. Consistency in caring for livestock is just something farmers do. It’s woven into the fabric of day-to-day life on the farm.

In Back to School, Already?, she highlighted a list of back-to-school “must-haves” that are possible because of agriculture, including pencils, paper and new clothes. But she also expressed something most of us can relate to – education is important to everyone’s future. “Education makes you think, grow, explore and imagine,” she wrote. Like many parents, Lang supports her local school as a classroom volunteer. She brings her passion for agricultural education with her to the classroom, where she’ll often read accurate ag books to students, followed by a short lesson plan and related activity.

Is Lang onto something? You betcha.

Research conducted by The Center for Food Integrity shows shared values are three to five times more important to building trust than sharing facts or demonstrating technical expertise. This ties into research conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which shows only one person in five has a high level of trust in modern agriculture and about half the population trusts modern ag somewhat, which means they are skeptical. But as Lang and other farmers continue to fine-tune how they tell the story of agriculture by demonstrating shared values, this trust gap with consumers will narrow.

Heather Lang is a farmer and Farm Bureau leader in North Dakota. She serves on the American Farm Bureau’s Promotion & Education Committee. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Cyndie Shearing is director of internal communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation. This article first appeared in FBNews on March 5