Want to engage with people about agriculture outside of the industry? Then find your tribe.
That’s the advice from Monsanto’s Vance Crowe, who happens to know a thing or two about connecting with people. As Monsanto’s Director of Millennial Engagement, Vance’s job involves engaging with people – and not just millennials – around the world on issues concerning farming and food.
So what does it mean to find a tribe? It means connecting with groups of people outside of the industry with whom you share similar interests or values.
“What’s really important for the agriculture community to realize is that if you want to change hearts and minds, you have to integrate into other tribes. You have to learn what are their norms, what are their behaviours, what do they think is funny,” explains Vance. “Once you are inside a tribe, when they ask a question [about agriculture], you will be there to give an informed answer.”
Interested in staying fit? Then perhaps look to connect with exercise groups. Enjoy snapping photos around your farm? Try seeking out amateur photography groups. Whatever tribe you choose, Vance stresses the importance of finding one that not only talks about things you are naturally curious about but is also not focused on agriculture.
“You want to find tribes that you will intrinsically find value in building relationships with those groups of people. That’s what will keep you going over the long period,” Vance explains.
“The people who will make the most difference are not the people who have the most connections within agriculture; they are the people who have the most connections with tribes that are outside of agriculture.”
After you’ve made those connections, don’t jump into a conversation right away based on your own agenda – instead, take care to listen to what other people have to say and ask questions about things that are important to those in the tribe.
“In the agriculture space, we often get told ‘Go talk, go talk, go talk’ and we forget to listen,” says Vance. “People like to talk about themselves. And that form of engagement is a really powerful force, because if people feel like you are listening to them, then they are going to be interested in listening to you when you have something to say.”
Focus on the positive
It’s no surprise to hear that many who oppose modern agriculture practices use various fear tactics to spread their messaging. Those fear-based strategies can easily attract attention and “inject ideas into people’s cultural conscience,” which Vance notes poses challenges for the agriculture industry that wants to be “very meticulous and careful in what we do,” including when it comes to communication.
“The agriculture community, I think, took a long time to wake up to the fact that the public has been taught that farmers are doing something nefarious and that [the agriculture community] needs to be entering those conversations,” he explains.
“[The agriculture industry] can’t just stay in their isolated communities. And when they go out into the broader public, they need to be prepared for why the public has been made to feel afraid of them.”
And while the natural reaction may be to try and defend all the misconceptions of modern agriculture practices that are fuelled by fear tactics that approach is not necessarily the most effective way to reinforce positive messages about food and farming. Rather than focusing on combating the negative, concentrating on relaying the unique and interesting aspects of your work in agriculture will prove more valuable as you build connections.
“If you spend time looking for the fights, you will find the fights; you will find very mean, dark, vitriolic fights. But very few people can be in those fights for long before it changes them in some way, and not for the better,” says Vance. “That’s not to say that you shouldn’t defend yourself, but that you want to find the situations in which most of your time is spent helping other people understand why the world you inhabit is fascinating and that they are welcome to come into it.
“We are not going to win hearts and minds by defeating bad arguments as much as we will by going and connecting with people living in the world.”