As a farmer, I think we should stop trying to 'educate' consumers
Most people just want to ask a question and have a real person answer it
Our family spends a lot of time talking about the food industry.
This is no surprise. We raise cattle and sell grass-fed beef directly to consumers.
We'd previously only sold cattle through auction marts or to others in the cattle industry.
Getting to know the people who eat the food we raise was a big change for us. After doing it for a while now, I've come to feel that we farmers need to stop trying to 'educate' the consumer.
Instead, I think that we should listen to the concerns of consumers and be open to genuine dialogue about how we can grow food that they feel safe eating.
Every farm is different
Our decision to start direct-marketing beef came about five years ago. We heard consumers asking for an alternative source of meat, due to their concerns about their own health, animal welfare and the environment. We realized the way we graze and manage our cattle meant we could produce beef raised and finished without any grain.
In other words, listening to consumers helped us find a path that worked for our farm.
Farmers are encouraged to tell our stories. People who don't come from farms are interested in farm life and want to learn how their food is raised. I think this is a good thing.
However, the idea that we need to educate consumers about the safety of technologies like genetically modified foods or pesticides doesn't feel right to me.
These are complex technologies that require some serious research to really understand. I think it is up to the companies creating these products and the agencies that regulate them to prove to both farmers and consumers that they are safe in the long-term.
Every farm is different. We all approach challenges in different ways. I can't promise a consumer that they can trust every farmer or feedlot raising beef. Ultimately, I can only tell them what I do on my farm.
No two customers buy our beef for exactly the same reason. They enjoy sharing their stories as much as we love to talk about our farm.
We have actually found that many of our customers are not necessarily concerned about whether our beef is grass-fed. They just want to buy beef from a farmer they've met.
As consumers, we don't always have the time or the energy to research every product we buy. Making a real connection with someone can feel a lot more important than hearing the science and the data behind a practice.
Consumers are not a homogeneous group
People often ask if we use antibiotics. I explain that we definitely will use antibiotics to treat a sick animal, but we don't use them to mass-medicate. Our management practices mean that cattle have lots of space and fresh ground, so we are fortunate to not have many sick animals.
For most people, this is fine. They weren't looking for data and statistics about antibiotic resistance, withdrawal periods and the safety of the entire beef industry. They just wanted to ask a question and have a real person answer it.
So farmers: stop thinking of consumers are a big, homogeneous group that we need to educate. Think of them instead as individual people who just want to make the best choices for their families and the environment.
Not every person cares about what they eat, but you can bet that the ones who are asking questions do. We can be the ones to answer their questions, but only if we have mutual trust.
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