Friday, March 11, 2011

Agriculture: Education vs. Conversation

While participating in Agchat on Twitter, there have been a few times when I noticed a dichotomy in the discussion regarding agriculture and the general public.  Some people emphasize the importance of educating the general public, while others stress the need for having a conversation with consumers that are likely more educated about agriculture.

Certainly the internet has provided a wealth of information to a population that is further removed from agriculture than it was several decades ago.  Unfortunately, much of the information available is not reliable nor scientifically sound, and typically found in the form of emotionally charged editorials.  So despite the rise in interest leading to self-education by some of the population, the two percent of the population involved in agriculture have a responsibility to educate and dispel myths when necessary.

The Information Highway, though,  is not completely cluttered by intellectual litter.  As the X-Files put it, the truth is out there.  So when interacting with more knowledgeable yet inquisitive consumers, the conversation aspect becomes crucial.  I'm not a psychologist, but I don't think I've ever met anyone who enjoyed feeling like an idiot because someone talked down to them. Having a conversation with someone goes beyond education because you listen as much - if not more than - you speak. Any and all information during a conversation should be provided to consumers in such a way that they feel confident in your reliability as a source.

Most of my interaction with consumers occurs at local fairs and expositions.  At these events, I find it best to start with basic educational points, and as I gain a better understanding of the consumer's perspective and knowledge, I shift into a more conversational mode. I always try to end on a positive note because if it's the only interaction a consumer has with a producer, it needs to be the best one possible.

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