VFBF convention’s keynote speaker tells farmers to think like consumers
HOT SPRINGS, Va. — Consumers want to know about the farmers who raise their food and not the science of farming, Michele Payn, keynote speaker at the Virginia Farm Bureau Convention told a room full of members and guests.
“We need to hit people in the heart,” the author and advocate for farmers and farming, told the group as she strolled among the luncheon tables in the ballroom at the Omni Homestead Resort.
She noted that conversations about food, how it is produced and whether it is safe are taking place all the time.
But farmers aren’t always doing much talking. Or their messages aren’t resonating.
“How many times do we keep our heads in the sand until we get really defensive and come out swinging?” Payn asked. She added that statistics and science don’t always resonate with consumers.
“Sometimes people just want to know why their food is being raised the way it is,” she said.
Payne is a farm girl who faced the adversity of the loss of her family’s farm in bankruptcy and the discovery of her life’s calling to work for the farmers of the country by telling their stories.
She is with Cause Matters Corp. Her book “Food Truths,” a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon, features interviews with U.S. Farmers who dispel common misconceptions about agriculture. It earned the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards bronze medal for medicine, health and nutrition. She has written another book, No More Food Fights! Growing a Productive Farm & Conversation, which encourages farm and food advocates to seek common ground.
Payn urged the farmers to engage in a conservation with consumers that leaves them feeling good. Her advice followed a video that showed a young couple questioning the server at a restaurant while trying to order. Their questions were about the chicken, said to be named Colin.
In the end, the couple left without ordering to go visit the farm where Colin lived.
“What was the critical question?” Payn asked. She was not satisfied with her audience’s responses to the most obvious possibilities.
“Do you have a relationship with a farmer?” is the question she said is critical.
She cautioned that it is not the science of farming that people want to know but the farmers who grow their food.
Payn told the farmers that consumers they talk with will forget what they say about farming but will never forget the way the farmer made them feel.
She also noted that most people, over 96 percent, have no direct contact with farming. Her message was that lack of familiarity can give them a different understanding than from what farmers hold.
She noted a study made a few years ago, asking Chicago residents about a picture of corn variety signs, which she showed on screens in the ballroom.
Farmers listening named the seed companies immediately but Payn said the city residents thought they meant those big companies owned the land itself, contributing to their notion that big companies are the owners of the nation’s farmland.
Payn said she sees social media as “the new reality” and urged the farmers to use the pictures on their telephones to tell their stories.
“Take them off your phone, and put them on Instagram. … It takes less than 10 minutes” and gives an accurate depiction of the nation’s farms and food production, she said.
It is a way to have a conversation rather than to educate, she said.
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