Cheese Made of Nuts? Why My Eyes Rolled

HeidiHoBy now, you have probably heard of the show Shark Tank. I love it because it is gritty and really epitomizes what America is about. It centers around entrepreneurs coming into a board room with five investors sitting in front of them. The entrepreneurs pitch their company to the investors and the investors can choose whether they want to invest money. One interesting product caught my eye on this show recently called Heidi Ho. This chef had found a way to make cheese without milk. As someone who works in the dairy industry, my first reaction was an eye roll, but then I realized this food product is still agriculture. After all it was made from nuts.

It got me thinking about how I react to a lot of “different” kinds of foods. These food products may be different, but they still are agriculture. Then, why did my eyes roll?

While I agree this was a fluffy product that seemed on the foo-foo dust side of reality… at the core, I think it was because I knew this could hurt the dairy industry. This is how it starts and why there are farmers and agvocates on both sides of agriculture that want to see the other side fail. While my eyes did roll, I am of the firm belief that if we are going to unseat the likes of the Food Babe, we need to work together as an agricultural community.

Which brings up a huge dilemma. I don’t really have a good answer, but I think all products have a place with consumers. Otherwise they wouldn’t sell anything. Yes, cheese made out of nuts may lead to more dairy farms going out of business, but it could also mean that those that deal with lactose intolerance can actually eat “cheese”. At the end of the day, we need to understand that the world is changing and consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about their food supply. As agvocates, we need to unite agriculture under one banner, not tear it into this side versus that side. A divided nation never wins the war.

Why You Should Have Faith in Gen Y Agvocates

WhyYouShouldHaveFaithInGenYAgvocatesWhen I was growing up, I often heard parents talking about the next generation. They were always worried about the future and leaving the world in “our hands”. While I understand this feeling now as a foster parent, I also know that Gen Y agvocates are ready for the task. Here are five reasons you should have faith in Gen Y agvocates:

1. We understand the cause

While we may appear young and naive, we do understand what’s at stake. I have met several Gen Y agvocates, including myself, that had lost their family farm growing up. It is a part of our generation and we know that we don’t want it to happen to other farms.

2. We are tech-savvy

Social media is always evolving and Gen Y has evolved right with it. We have grown up with these new platforms and are armed and ready to learn the next one.

3. FFA and 4-H

In an age where the number of farmers is shrinking, the membership of FFA and 4-H continues to be strong. Many Gen Y agvocates have their roots in FFA and/or 4-H; programs that I think are invaluable to our industry. These programs are making leaders out of it’s memberships.

4. We are good at making “friends”

While we may not be the generation that will just walk up to anyone and say “hi”, I do believe that my generation is more connected to the people we meet than ever before. We now connect with our acquaintances on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and stay more connected, sharing the story of agriculture along the way.

5. We are opinionated

I don’t think I really need to defend this. You all have probably seen how opinionated Gen Y can be. It is one of our strengths because we are going to fight for agriculture. We have a drive to tell the real story and we are not going to let anyone tell us differently.

You may have doubts about Gen Y agvocates, but I don’t. I think we are poised to make a difference in this world in the name of agriculture.

Sometimes the World is Just Messed Up

WorldMessedUpThis last week I’ve been really down and I have been looking back on the world and have had an “ah-ha” moment…the world is really messed up.

I can’t explain why people are starving in third-world countries and in our backyard. I can’t explain why someone would want to harm a child. I can’t explain why some farmers choose to abuse their animals. I just can’t. I can only realize that the world is just messed up sometimes. If you don’t understand it today, you will soon. You’ll see a video online, or a tweet that is really insensitive and it will freak you out. You will wonder if you as an agvocate (someone who has a small social media account), are really making a difference in the world. I’m here to tell you that you are making a difference.

There is a large debate about food right now. It wasn’t here 10 years ago, but I see agvocates like you joining the fight every day. Consumers are joining the conversation every day and having agvocates there is important. It may not seem like we are winning the fight every day, but we are doing better than yesterday.

The forces against us are strong, but we have something they don’t have…a belief in what we are doing. I strongly believe agvocates are the most passionate people in the world and our voice will be heard. Maybe not today, but tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that. So, today I urge you to join this fight. Man your post and fight for your passion. Fight for agriculture.

Today the fight is #RealWIDairy, but tomorrow it could be something completely different. Are you up for the challenge?

Stop Using Money as an Excuse for Ag Practices

Stop-Using-Money-As-An-ExcuseLet’s be honest here with one major fact about most farmers: most farmers need to make money.

While this is a fact about most farmers, we as agvocates typically use money as an explanation for some agricultural practices. For example: “They wouldn’t do anything wrong because it would hurt their bottom line”, “I do the things I do so I can put food on the table for my family” and “I need to grow my operation to support my family”. While I understand the logic behind each of these statements, they really come off as “cold” and heartless to the unassuming consumer. It makes your family-run farm look like a well-oiled, profit-driven company.

Whether you like it or not you need to think about the perceptions that form from everything you say. While money may be a good reason to the agricultural community, money is not a good reason for the general public. Consumers want to hear you say that you care about their families, not just your own.

Making a personal connection with consumers helps make our message much more effective. Make sure you think about that the next time you are about to use money as an excuse.

What I Learned From the Term “Marginal Land”

WhatILearnedFromtheTermMarginalLandFarmers grow crops on marginal land. This was a topic that came up in a discussion I had on Twitter recently (it was the same discussion that prompted my previous post, “Why You Should Never Say “Every Farmer…”).  During this discussion I discovered something…not everyone has the same definition for a term or phrase.

The specific phrase we had a problem with was “marginal land.” While you all probably understand it’s general meaning, “less than high-quality land”, the specific discussion we were having really hinged on what each of us felt was the definition of “marginal land.” One person felt we shouldn’t be producing crops on marginal land because it was harmful to the environment. While I agreed, I felt there were things farmers could do to the land that could make “marginal land” more suitable for crop production, such as tiling or no-till. We didn’t really agree until we finally made a definition for the term “marginal land.” While it seems really silly, defining this term actually created an “ah-ha” moment for both of us, a better understanding of the subject and all while helping us come to a consensus (it was quite rather exhilarating).

So, next time you get upset at someone because they are using a “fuzzy” phrase like farmers grow crops on marginal lands or GMO’s are unhealthy, maybe you should stop and ask them to define what marginal lands and unhealthy means to them. It’s much easier to talk about something once you know what they actually mean rather than taking a shot in the dark and angering the listeners or giving yourself a heart attack.

What other “fuzzy phrases” do you think need to be defined before you should have a discussion with someone? List them in the comments below.

Why You Should Never Say “Every Farmer…”

WhyYouShouldNeverSayEveryFarmerEvery farmer cares about the land. Every farmer takes good care of their animals. Every farmer follows the rules. False, false and… false. Three strikes and you are out.

Using the “every farmer” phrase is a common mistake that I see agvocates make, and admitedly I’ve made the same mistake. Sometimes it doesn’t start with the words “every farmer” either. The most recent example I’ve witnessed was when someone said that farmers don’t plant corn on marginal land. While we could debate this issue all day, we really can’t back up the claim that every acre of corn in America is planted on “higher-than-marginal” land.

When facing an angry, anti-ag person, talking in absolutes can get you thrown into a corner really fast. People that like to jump on absolutes like to use them to discredit what you are saying. So if you say every farmer cares about the land, they may ask you about a random article in Times that discredits your statement. They just want to catch you in a “lie” so they can use it to their advantage. It’s hard because as a community of agvocates, we like to think everyone is upholding their end of the bargain. They are supposed to be doing everything the right way. They are not supposed to do the things that get agriculture in trouble on YouTube, but yet there are farmers out there that do. We need to realize that those farmers exist and then move on.

So, next time you want to say “every farmer…”, make sure you stop and think. You need to really think about the statement you are going to make because it may come back to bite you later.

How to Deal with the Food Babe

FBhariI think we all know who the Food Babe is by now. And we all probably have gotten at least one Facebook comment deleted correcting her overblown, uneducated statements.

I have been toying with how to handle the Food Babe and what are some suggestions that I can give you on how to stand up to her antics. Short of going all Humane Watch on her, there are really only three things that I have come up with.

1. Get proof

The Food Babe is notorious for deleting comments on Facebook, but unfortunately we can’t really do anything about that. We can document everything that gets deleted though. Taking screenshots of every comment you make on her page is a really good practice. That way if your stuff gets deleted you always have proof. You can then share that picture on Facebook and Twitter using your own profiles. To increase the viewership of this picture on Twitter with her “army”, make sure to use “#foodbabearmy” in your post.

2. Question her on your turf

Using your blog as a public forum to question the Food Babe’s claims can be a really effective tactic as well. When the discussion is on your turf, only you can delete the comments (even though you shouldn’t unless absolutely necessary as suggested by @JPlovesCOTTON). Tweeting using #foodbabearmy will help spread the word to her following.

3. Message her followers

While she can stop you from commenting on her post, she can’t stop you from having a private conversation with her followers. To do this, simply right click on the person’s name and hit “message”. You can then begin chatting with someone about their comments. Choosing the right people to engage in is really important as well. Choose the people on the fence, not the people shouting praise for the Food Babe. This way you can comment with her followers without getting your comments deleted and/or being blocked from her page.

While these are just a few suggestions, some of you might have others that have worked for you. Please share those suggestions in the comments below.


Why You Should be Participating in Twitter Chats

My favorite Twitter chat is #AgChat. Join next Tuesday from 8-10 Eastern.

Hashtags have quickly become a part of our culture. People not only use hashtags on Twitter, but also in normal conversation. It is now commonplace for people to drop a #winning (said “hashtag winning”) or any other hashtag into a conversation.

What many people don’t understand is that hashtags actually have a purpose, larger than that of making a conversation more entertaining or just making a joke about a situation. Hashtags are a way to follow a topic and are very important when participating in Twitter chats.

Twitter chats are when people on Twitter come together to have a “chat” about a topic using hashtags. People follow the hashtag for the chat and chime in when they have an opinion about the posed questions. Some Twitter chats are more formal and have preset questions that are asked every few minutes while others are very informal and the visitors to the chat ask the questions.

Either way, Twitter chats are important for one large reason, they help you gain connections! By answering questions in this format, you are able to interact with people from across the world, creating new connections every time you join a Twitter chat. It is very common that I gain several new followers and strengthen my relationship with my connections every chat I participate in.

One of my favorite Twitter chats is #AgChat, which is held every Tuesday from 8:00-10:00 a.m. Eastern time. Hopefully I will see you there next time…#thatwouldbeawesomesauce

You Don’t Always Need to React

I recently visited the Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) social media center, which they refer to as the “fish bowl”. It is a glass-encased room full of TV monitors and bright, young minds in the world of social media. They are in this fish bowl every day trying to tell the good stories of the dairy industry. One of the most interesting things I learned during this visit was about reacting to controversies. People, organizations and companies promote tons of things on social media, but learning when you should and shouldn’t engage in a controversy was an important skill DMI felt agvocates need to understand better.

Most of the conversation was about Chipotle’s recent Hulu experiment where they created a series titled “Farmed and Dangerous.” These social media minds were explaining how this campaign wasn’t really gaining much traction and in fact, would have died faster had we agvocates not picked it up and ran with it. This led me to wonder what other controversies we as agvocates have promoted, leading the controversy to get more publicity than it would have.

Here are three things that could help you when thinking about whether to react to a controversial hashtag or blog:

1. Who is reacting

A controversy is often started when a person, organization or company creates a blog post, tweet or some other form of media. So, initially that group breaks the “story” and it is then up to the general public to decide if the story thrives or dies. When you are reading tweets or blog posts in this controversy, you need to look at who is in the conversation. This is where looking at bios on Twitter and blogs can be really important. Are the people that are commenting always against agriculture or are these people every day citizens? If a large amount of the following on the topic is the general public, then you should be joining the conversation.

2. Track it

If there is a hashtag associated with the controversy, then tracking that hashtag is really powerful. Using websites like and can provide you with analytics on the reach of the controversy and who the big talkers are in the controversy. These free websites can help you gain insight into the real strength of the controversy.

3. Is it on the news

The news is a very powerful entity and when a controversy has reached the news, then you know it is a serious issue. A lot of new entities use the the Associated Press and New York Times  to help them find stories. So, following these entities closely can help you find news stories before they are shown on every television screen across America.

While these are three tips that can help you decipher the strength of a controversy, others may have some other ideas. If you know of another way to decipher the strength of a controversy, post it in the comments below.

Facebook Profile vs. Page

Question of the day: Should I start a Facebook page or use my personal Facebook profile?

This is the first question most agvocates need to ask when thinking about starting to use Facebook in their social media efforts. There are advantages to both, but deciding what is right for your strategy is the most important thing to understand. Here are the major advantages of both.

Facebook Page Advantages:

  • There are advanced analytics on Facebook pages: Using the analytics tool provided by Facebook, you can see the reach of your post beyond the amount of likes, comments and shares, the best time of day to post and much more.
  • Advertising: Facebook pages allow you to easily advertise and promote your content and page. It is relatively cheap and you can spend as little as $5 a day and still see a big impact.
  • Scheduling posts: You can’t schedule posts on your personal Facebook profile, but with Facebook pages it is as simple as clicking a button.
  • You can still have a personal Facebook profile: With Facebook pages, everything is separate so you can still post whatever you want on your personal profile. If you decide to use your personal profile, you will need to be more selective about the content you put on your personal Facebook profile.

Personal Facebook Profile Advantages:

  • You can gain an audience faster: One of the biggest advantages to using a personal Facebook profile is that you can easily friend request someone. This make gaining an audience much easier, but be careful because you don’t want to come off as creepy to the person you are reaching out to.
  • You can better understand your followers: With Facebook pages you can get to understand demographic information about your followers, but you can’t figure out what that person is talking about on a day-to-day basis. A personal Facebook profile allows you to actually interact with someone on a daily basis without their permission.

They both have advantages so you may still be on the fence, but it really boils down to two things: First, what is your “persona” online? Are you going to be using this page as a person or as an organization or entity? If you are representing an organization or entity, seeking out people as a personal Facebook profile is really creepy. People do not want to be sought after from organizations or entities. Secondly, do you want people to see your personal life? If you like to post a lot of personal photos and information on your personal page, you really need to think about if you want others to see that. If you don’t want people to see it, then you should probably not use your personal Facebook profile.