Jill Burkhardt’s reason for being a proud agvocate is simple: she couldn’t imagine her life without being involved in agriculture.
“It’s my livelihood. It’s how I grew up. It’s how I was raised. It’s everything to me. It’s all I know,” explains Jill.
Having grown up on a cattle ranch in southwest Montana, Jill moved to Canada after marrying her husband, Kelly, and joined him on his family’s farm in Gwynne, Alberta.
Fast forward a few years and Jill and Kelly, along with some help from their three young children, are now the fifth generation of Kelly’s family to operate Crooked Lake Farm, a mixed farm raising beef cattle, small grains, and oilseeds.
“For me, I’ve always been talking about what we do on the farm, and I’ve always been proud of being in agriculture. So, I guess you could say I’ve always been an agvocate,” Jill laughs.
Those agvocating ambitions became more focused when Jill became involved with farmers markets in Edmonton, where she found herself answering many different questions about the beef she was selling and her farming practices. Not only did the experience give her more confidence in speaking up for agriculture, but it also made her realize the various questions that people outside of the industry have about farming and food production.
“Going to those farmers markets was the catalyst for everything. I figured that if those people had those questions, then I’m sure a lot of people have the same questions,” says Jill.
“So let’s answer those questions; let’s talk. It’s about being out there and being transparent. If I’m out there, I feel like I am a point of contact if people do have questions.”
Certainly, a key reason why so many people have questions about agriculture is due to the multitude of conflicting information circulating about the industry. But rather than focusing on combating every misconception, Jill notes that a more effective way to get agvocacy messages across is by engaging with an appropriate audience.
“We need to be focusing on the people who have the questions, who don’t have their minds made up and are trying to sort through all of the information out there – whether that’s misinformation or good information. If people are arguing with you, then they are clearly not your audience,” she explains.
“As an agvocate, you may not always dispel myths, but it’s important to be transparent and speak about your own experiences and about what you know. And if you don’t know something, just admit you don’t know and put the person in touch with someone who has that experience.”
With most of her agvocating taking place on social media, Jill has also learned about the importance of “picking your battles” and not taking every negative comment to heart, something she says is crucial for every agvocate to keep in mind.
“When it comes to agriculture, some people already have their minds made up. And you’re not going to change that. Sometimes you need to let things slide because not everything is a hill to die on,” explains Jill. “Some people will say negative things, but it has nothing to do with you personally. Just let it be water off your back and move on.”
As an Ag More Than Ever Ambassador for Alberta, Jill says she hopes to empower more people in the industry to share their story by highlighting that there is no special requirement for becoming an agvocate. A passion for agriculture is all that is needed.
“Anyone can be an agvocate. Everyone has a smartphone now, so take a picture when you’re out in the fields or working in the barn. You don’t have to overthink it, and you never know what a simple picture will lead to,” she explains.
“With agvocacy, it’s important to remember that what you think is mundane – because you’re just doing chores – someone else sitting in an office in the city will find pretty interesting.”
While few Canadians today have a direct connection to agriculture, Jill notes that food remains something that connects us all. Leveraging that connection, she adds, is a useful way to make the story of Canada’s farming industry resonate with more audiences.
“The truth is that we all depend on agriculture every day. Even if people are not aware, agriculture is around them all the time on a daily basis and that food connects us,” she says.
“I may not raise the food you eat, but food still connects all of us.”