Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Effective Ag Communication—Different Accents, Different Methods, Same Results

I haven’t met Brennan Costello or Jude Capper, but in different ways—and in different accents—they impress me with their abilities to promote agriculture.

Costello is enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and he has been serving as a National FFA Central Region Vice President. I have a feeling this young man has herded cattle and dug into some rich topsoil, but he also knows how to cultivate words. His “Midwest Cornhusker voice” comes through as he crafts an essay that does three key things:

1.   He mentions but dismisses a misleading ad campaign, and he does it without getting defensive or slanted.
2.   He uses concrete examples to paint straightforward images of farming.
3.   And he encourages others in the ag world to communicate clear, honest stories.

Costello describes a dynamic ag-ed program, and his words remind me of what I like best about the farm community I came from—the farmers. They enjoy working the land and they acknowledge the challenges—the dizzying growth, the huge capital costs, the tech and weather complications, the spider web of regulations, and even the few bad apples who give ag a bad name. But like the farmers in Brennan’s piece, they are trying to make a living and produce quality food—they have stories to tell, but they usually walk the walk, not talk the talk.

Jude Capper “talks her talk” loud and clear to the public and policymakers alike. She uses science, logic, and her smooth British accent to explain why animal agriculture is not only improving its environmental and sustainable qualities, it has become essential in our efforts to eradicate world hunger. As a university
professor and an in-demand presenter at many ag events, Capper uses visual aids, exhaustive research, and clear messages to explain why agriculture’s carbon hoofprints are getting lighter while the need for livestock products has become greater.

Dr. Capper recently spoke at three rollout events on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.—to House staffers, to Senate staffers, and to a gathering at the Farm Bureau building. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology organized the sessions to roll out its latest publication—Issue Paper #53, Animal Feed vs. Human Food: Challenges and Opportunities in Sustaining Animal Agriculture Toward 2050. Authors and reviewers led by Dr. Jude Capper have examined the facts and provided science-based research to support credible information about animal agriculture and the "feed versus food" issue.

News headlines, social media blitzes, and even company ad campaigns tend to paint farmers with certain broad strokes, and the results sometimes leave only stereotyped stick figures. It takes thought and common sense to explain the innate qualities of agriculture—the National FFA Organization is developing young agriculturalists with those qualities. It also takes time and effort to examine the factsCAST strives to do that with its publications, videos, social media releases, and collaborations with well-respected experts. by dan gogerty

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Yellow School Bus—Social Media with a Whiff of Gravel Dust and Exhaust Fumes

In second or third grade, the teacher asked us to raise our hands if we lived on a farm. Of the 25 or so students, just three were “townies.” The rest of us left cows, corn wagons, and the farm dog behind each morning as we hopped on a yellow bus for the dusty ride to school. The trip could be chaotic. Kids shouted, wrestled for the best seats, and picked on others.

During our grade school years, my two brothers and I would walk up the quarter mile lane to our grandparents’ house and wait for the bus there. We must have been early one winter day, because Grandpa took us out in the yard to show us how to trap rabbits. He pointed out some tracks in the snow and then positioned a box with a stick propping it up. “This carrot is the bait,” he said. “The rabbit will enter the box to eat, but he’ll knock the stick over and get trapped.”

When we arrived home, we checked the trap and sure enough, there was a dead rabbit in the box. We were too young to notice that the rabbit was stiff and frozen, with that day-old-dead look about it. Our version of the story made for lively bragging at show-and-tell the next day.

Our bus had no air conditioning or seat belts—and judging by the way we bounced around, it had no suspension or shocks either. The ambience consisted of noise, exhaust fumes, and constant stop-and-go movements, so it’s no wonder some of us suffered from motion sickness. In hot weather, we’d stick to the seats; in winter, we’d be stuck in a snow drift until a farmer with a tractor pulled up.
We didn’t have digital devices to occupy our time, and frankly, you didn’t want to be looking down anyway—you could get hit with a spit wad, someone’s stocking cap, or maybe a flying apple core. Some kids were picked on. We didn’t call it bullying then, but the ride must have been long for shy kids or anyone who made an enemy of the guys in the back—the ones cool enough to wear blue jeans and use Brylcreem in their hair. Their motto wasn’t “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya.” It was more like “Shut up, or a little jab in the arm’ll do ya.” But most of the time, it was a civilized crowd. Many of us were family, and in a way, the farming community had a close-knit feel about it.
One day an older boy boarded the bus carrying a paper bag. He and his numerous siblings lived in a rundown farmhouse at the far edge of the county—a place that seemed to have no trees and several mangy dogs prowling the yard. The boy sat in the back—his priority seat—and then pulled a snake out of the bag. It wasn’t poisonous or all that big, but we little kids were entertained. Our local snake charmer had the animal in a tight grip—maybe too tight. By the time we reached town, the snake had excreted a pasty brown liquid onto the boy’s jeans. Staring up at twenty-some goofy looking kids must have scared the stuffings out of the poor thing.

Mom and Dad aren’t too impressed with my memories of riding the gravel roads by bus since they both went to one-room schools. “We walked to school,” Dad says. “But my farm was only a half-mile from the building. Some kids had to trudge along for two miles, and a few rode horses. We had coal for heat, two electric bulbs for lighting, and a well across the road to bucket our water.” Some things were similar, though. Dad says kids occasionally brought snakes, frogs, and sparrows into the room for a little excitement.

The buses in our part of the country are still yellow, but they make fewer stops. Farms are larger, old wooden houses are now cornfields, and not so many kids wait at the top of the lane with Lone Ranger lunch boxes in hand and playful dogs by their sides. Maybe modern-day students should have an app on their smartphones so they can get a taste of the old time ride—it would come equipped with the noise of grinding gears and chattering kids; the smell of gravel dust and carbon monoxide; and a message that says “turn this off, look up, play, wrestle, laugh, argue, and try a little face-to-face social media.”

 (by dan gogerty; photo from schoolbusdriver.org)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Centenarian, a Shovel, and a Glass of Chardonnay

Bernadine received a shovel for her 100th birthday, and that was fine with her. As soon as she blew out her candles and put down her wine glass, she was ready to dig in. The centenarian has been cheerleading efforts to expand the park facilities behind her house for years, and the Story County Conservation Department has given the project the go-ahead. As Kyle Munson of the Des Moines Register reported, this is just one of many interests on Bernadine’s agenda.

Bernadine (Dakins) Schaefer is the matriarch of the family that provided land and a subsequent lake for the camping spot that has been a mainstay for the small town of Zearing for decades. Now the area will expand with a watershed and conservation focus, and the camping facilities will be improved. The wind turbines that churn in nearby fields will provide some tax revenue for the project, and the locals hope it will spur the economy in a town hit by the financial downturn and farm depopulation.

Every small town needs a Dakins Lake—at least they used to. I grew up three miles north of the lake, but I haven’t been there much lately, so I’m not sure small rural lakes serve the same purpose they used to. In the early ‘60s, it was a spot to take the kids so they could thread squirming worms onto barbed hooks and then toss lines with cork bobbers into the algae-tinged water. We might snag a blue gill or two, but most visitors didn’t count on catching enough fish to cook over the campfire—hot dogs and smores were usually on the menu.

I heard the lake attracted many swimmers and ice skaters earlier in the twentieth century, but by our teen years, it had become murky, with water weeds dominating the north end. We Boy Scouts might camp there on occasion, but the only swimming I heard of came from the Polar Bear Club. A few of the older scouts had a “secret society” that included only those who would dare swim across the lake when the air temperature was near freezing. The chilly conditions made them swim the hundred yards or so at a brisk pace, but another factor weighed more heavily. To receive the “Polar Bear Award,” the swimmer had to be in his birthday suit, and since the lake was home to a certain number of snapping turtles, the guys said they swam using a nervous single-armed side stroke.
Most of us used the park for a meeting place during high school car cruising days, while campers from around central Iowa continued to pull their vans and camper-trailers in for weekend visits. Now they’re planning to install real campsites, showers, and a playground. They’ll probably stock the lake with bass, and there is some talk of bike paths that connect with other routes in the state. It sounds like the type of project that keeps the pulse beating in out-of-the-way rural areas, and the town has a strong-willed senior citizen to thank for it. Here’s hoping Bernadine has many more years to sip her afternoon glass of Chardonnay on the back porch as she looks across the field to the lake that carries on her family’s name.  by dan gogerty, (photo, RonJames--special to DMRegister)