Danielle Lee grew up telling the story of agriculture. She farms with her family (primarily her Mom, Debbie) on Rockyview Farm just outside Calgary at Springbank, Alta. The 100-year-old farm was originally a Jersey dairy farm and is now a commercial cow-calf operation with a small flock of sheep. Her family was honoured with a BMO Farm Family Award in 2015.
Danielle serves on the board of the Canadian Young Farmers’ Forum, representing Alberta, B.C. and Yukon. She has volunteered on numerous committees over the years, including a number of agricultural committees with the Calgary Stampede.
What does being an agvocate mean to you?
To me, an agvocate is anyone who helps tell a positive agriculture story. I believe there are many ways to share that story, and all are needed. I agvocate because I grew up doing it, long before I ever knew what it was. I have always been an agvocate – I guess you could say it’s in my genes (or jeans!)
What led you to become an agvocate?
From a very young age I was involved in agriculture education programs at the Calgary Stampede and in the Calgary area, including Aggie Days (a volunteer-based agriculture education program for school kids and the public in the Calgary area). My mom started by bringing some calves to the event when it first began some 30 years ago, and then started milking demonstrations. I spent many hours in the dairy calf pens, letting kids in to see and hear about the calves. As I grew older, I started helping Mom with the milking demos. Today, I do all the talking and Mom does all the milking!
For many years, my mom and I travelled the province doing milking demonstrations and dairy cattle displays at various ag education events and fairs, such as Edmonton Farmfair & Klondike Days, Lethbridge Aggie Days and the Medicine Hat Stampede.
How do you share the story of agriculture?
Most of my agvocating has been in person.
Going to school in Calgary, I had lots of opportunities to bring farming to school. In junior high we had to do speeches, and mine were about the farm. One year, I brought a lamb and talked about sheep. The next year I taught the class about cattle and mini-horses, again including live animals.
Because our farm is so close to the city, we’ve taken our animals to many events such as Stampede breakfasts, schools and community fairs. With a variety of animals we’re able to talk about agriculture from many perspectives. We made signs about what cows eat, when they have their first calf, and the different breeds, because many people who won’t ask questions will read a sign.
We lend a beef animal, a ewe and lambs to Calgary’s Heritage Park farmyard each year for the summer day-camp programs that teach people about the history of farming around Calgary.
I started doing media interviews at a very young age. I’ve done hundreds of them. These are a great way to talk about agriculture and farming and reach a large audience. The media is always drawn to live animals, and especially love doing hands-on things like trying to hand-milk a cow.
In the past few years, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to be on the board for the Canadian Young Farmers’ Forum. I’ve attended conferences, meetings and even events in the U.S. to promote Canadian agriculture. I think it’s just as important to talk to peers about the Canadian agriculture industry and how we do things on our farms.
I joined Twitter and Instagram too, and have posted photos from our farm. I’m always happy to answer people’s questions, however, I find that people can be very defensive and sometimes downright mean behind a computer screen. For me, I would much rather talk to people face-to-face.
What have you learned?
Sometimes you’re confronted with people who have very different beliefs about farming and agriculture. It used to bother me that people would not listen to and believe an actual farmer. I’ve learned to focus my efforts on consumers who want to listen and learn. There are some people out there who are set in their beliefs and will not change, and we shouldn’t spend our time on them.
I’ve also learned to tailor my demos to answer common questions and dispel myths. For example, when I give a milking demo I explain that milk in Canada doesn’t contain any added hormones or antibiotics.
What advice would you give to other agvocates?
It’s always important to remember who you’re speaking to and choose your words wisely. We have so many acronyms and so much jargon in agriculture that we understand, but consumers don’t. It’s better to explain things as if you’re talking to a group of kids rather than have people leave not understanding what was said. And remember: no question is a stupid question.
I’ve been caught off-guard a few times while on live TV or radio with ‘different’ questions, but it’s always important to have your main speaking points ready and move the conversation back to those. If possible, chat with the interviewer before you begin and tell them a bit about your animal and farm. This gives them ideas and helps guide the interview in a positive direction.
I think people should do what makes them feel comfortable. It doesn’t have to be social media. There are many ways people can agvocate, whether it’s a face-to-face conversation, a booth or demo at an event, or providing support to other agvocates.
Danielle summed up her extensive agvocate experience by saying that the agriculture industry needs to support one another. “Knowing others are agvocating for the Canadian agriculture industry, I feel confident in its future. It’s nice to know you’re not alone in telling the farming story,” she says. Knowing there are committed agvocates like Danielle definitely makes the future look bright.