Commentary: The platform for advocacy transitions to social media


Issue Date: December 17, 2014
By Jamie Johansson
Jamie Johansson
Photos/Matt Salvo

Let me start by saying to California farmers and ranchers, congratulations. Your work has established a golden age for consumers.

Let's be bold enough to say that in the history of farm to fork—a term I do not consider to be new—at no time have there been more options available for what a consumer can put at the end of a fork than right now.

The success in creating a diverse California farm economy didn't arise from a groundbreaking session in an urban food think tank, or originate in a legislative body. It comes from decisions being made on our farms and in our fields and, more often than not, around the dinner table of a Farm Bureau family.

Those decisions are a result of farmers' relationships with consumers, whether direct or indirect.

However, spend any time on social media concerning food production, and one would be led to believe agriculture has become a monoculture and we are in danger of losing our diversity on the farm, based on our practices.

It simply is not true.

What we grow, how we grow and how we get it to the consumer has never been more diverse, and opportunities for both large and small farms to thrive have never been greater.

Many of our members have led the charge to change the narrative online, and defend how we farm and the technology we use on the farm to meet demands created, ultimately, by the consumer.

If you have spent any time on Twitter, you know that simply typing 140 characters is just the beginning of a discussion that can last for hours. And those debates on farm practices and food production haven't stayed within the confines of social media. They've been carried into local community forums, panel discussions on college campuses or simply a lunchtime presentation at a service club meeting.

So, thank you to those county Farm Bureaus and local members who take that opportunity to share their experience at the ground level.

For as long as I've been a Farm Bureau member, we've been fully invested in farm advocacy that expanded beyond lawmakers and sought out new opportunities to inform a growing urban public about where their food came from, whether it's been Ag in the Classroom, television shows and magazines produced by California Farm Bureau, yearly county farm-city celebrations, bus tours and even county Farm Bureaus offering year-long educational programs for local leaders.

The challenge for California Farm Bureau in the foreseeable future is to explain to an engaged consumer not only what and how we farm, but why.

It will have to be done on a social media platform that is unrelenting, seven days a week, and is all too often driving a legislative agenda based on trial and error, rather than understanding and science.

For those people online who criticize our farming practices and say we are losing our diversification, let's remind them that they get to spend an awful lot of time talking about how we farm and what we eat, because they don't have to worry if they're going to eat.

We have to remind people that, though at times we feel we are caught in the crosshairs in agriculture, ultimately it is our customers who are caught in the crosshairs—and that is who we are fighting for.

(Jamie Johansson is second vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. This commentary is adapted from remarks delivered at the CFBF Annual Meeting.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.