Ontario dairy farmer bridging the gap between farmers and consumers
Getting to know Farmer Tim has been a real pleasure. His passion for the dairy industry and for sharing his personal story is apparent from the start. Tim May is a life-long dairyman and currently farms with his veterinarian wife Kristen, and their two children, Andy and Abby, in southern Ontario.
From the school tours they have hosted, his involvement with 4-H to his participation in research projects, Farmer Tim is a committed agvocate.
We asked him to tell us more about his involvement in agriculture.
“I have a degree in Animal Science from the University of Guelph – OAC ’94 Aggie! Now I help with research on our farm with the Ontario Agricultural College and the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, as well as assisting in educating their vet med students.”
Would you share with us what being an agvocate means to you?
To me an Agvocate is an individual who promotes the agricultural industry in a positive way. In my case, it is sharing my passion for dairy farming, but at the same time being open-minded to the concerns of non-farmers through open and honest dialogue. It is about telling my story proactively in a way that non-farmers can understand. I believe it also means encouraging fellow farmers to be advocates and working with them to further agriculture.
Why do you agvocate?
I think it is important to lead by example. I have been an agvocate all my life through tours of our farm and visits to schools etc., and through social media in the last year.
I am a natural educator – if I weren’t farming I would have become a teacher. But now I have the best of both worlds. Agvocating is an extension of who I am and it’s a way that I can do my small part to speak up for agriculture and show my pride in my industry.
Farmers make up less than two per cent of our population so we have a pretty small voice. Every farmer needs to do their part if we are going to be heard over all the misinformation. Consumers have lots of questions about farming, and if we don’t speak up and provide the answers, consumers might get incorrect information from other sources.
How do you share the real story of agriculture?
I do most of my agvocating through my ‘Farmer Tim’ Facebook page. I like its flexibility. It allows me to post my photos, videos and blogs of life on our farm. I can also share posts from fellow ag bloggers.
I use Twitter because it is a great tool to connect with other farmers and agvocates – despite the 140-character limit! And I have just started an Instagram account. Not everyone wants to read a blog so it’s a great way to share photos of the farm.
What have you done that works well?
Non-farmers like to see that we are just like them. I always point out that my family eats the food that I produce and that we buy our other groceries at the store just like non-farmers do.
My followers like to see the emotional side of farmers. They have seen my sorrow at the loss of a calf and they have rejoiced with me on a new birth or some hay that was harvested right before a rain.
Short videos and lots of photos are very popular, but I am ALWAYS sure to explain them well. You definitely don’t want someone to take a photo out of context – you need to always explain the story behind it.
People don’t like to be preached to so I keep my posts on the fun side, but almost always educational. I’ve become known as the “king of puns” in the ag world; it’s kind of like sneaking some veggies into your kid’s Kraft dinner. I always try to sneak some ag facts into my humour.
What advice would you give to other agvocates?
Always be polite even when you disagree and keep an open mind to other people’s opinions. We can learn from each other.
Use terminology that non-farmers can understand. For example, not everyone knows what a heifer is.
Remember you are representing your fellow farmers, and consumers are looking to you to answer questions. Avoid memes and comments that make fun of consumers, urbanites, vegans and vegetarians, etc. because you never know who is following your page.
Make use of your followers who are fellow farmers. Encourage them to help respectfully answer questions in the comments and share their stories – we are all in this together. Form friendships with fellow agvocates and bloggers so that you can share stories and ideas. Keep your posts unique and refreshing.
What is boring and ordinary for you might be interesting and exciting to a non-farmer. It’s great to talk about GMOs and pesticides, but don’t forget the basics. People want to learn about things that farmers take for granted (for example, how a cow is milked).
What have you learned?
I’ve met so many great farmers and non-farmers from around the world. They’re like an extended family. All farmers deal with similar issues when it comes to misinformation about agriculture; we all need to work together to spread the good news about agriculture.
Non-farmers want to learn. They want to see photos of your farm, hear your stories and feel your passion for agriculture. If a small farmer from Canada can make a difference anyone can and I believe sharing my story has made a difference.
Tim sets a great example for others looking to share their story on social media. In his words, “If a farmer teaches one person about farming it might not change the world, but it might change the world for that one person.” If we each take up the challenge to share our individual stories on social media, or in classrooms, or at the grocery store we can ensure the contentious issues take a back seat to a real understanding of agriculture as a diverse, vibrant and progressive industry.
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