At young farmers meeting, advocacy takes center stage


Issue Date: April 6, 2011
By Christine Souza

To help bridge the information gap between farmers and the urban public, California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger told his audience at the annual Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference in Ventura that "we have to be advocates for our industry."

"Think about the small amount of the population that is involved in agriculture, and yet our impact on this state is so huge," Wenger said. "The rest of the world wants what we produce in California and that is high-quality food and fiber. The problem is, we need to have the water to do that…we need a regulatory environment that helps us remain in business."

To assist young farmers and ranchers with improving the regulatory outlook for agriculture, Josh Rolph of the CFBF National Affairs Division and Emily Rooney, president of the Agricultural Council of California, led a session about the workings of politics in Washington, D.C., and how to appeal to policymakers.

"The most effective meetings are the ones where an affected constituent is telling his or her story," Rolph said.

Rooney agreed that personal stories are immensely important.

"Not only do personal stories paint a picture for what Josh and I are doing, but they give the member of Congress an opportunity to make a personal connection with his or her constituent, and also give them a media opportunity," Rooney said. "It demonstrates their interest of protecting their constituent, which is really what it is all about."

To reach out to the public and convey their personal stories, Wenger urged the young farmers and ranchers to continue their use of social media.

"It is going to be up to those of you—whether you are in production agriculture, banking, are a PCA (pest control advisor) or whatever it is—to put your spin on it and send it to those who you interact with over the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, because you will make a difference," Wenger said.

Someone putting this practice into action is conference speaker Chris Chinn, a hog farmer from Missouri and a social media advocate who is past chair of the American Farm Bureau Federation YF&R Committee. Chinn is telling the story of her family farm through a video that she produced and posted on YouTube: "The Truth about Modern Pork Production." The video, which has received more than 55,000 views, describes the farm and conveys her family's top priority: the care and comfort of their animals.

"Don't think that people will automatically understand what you do in agriculture and how you do it. Put your face out there. Talk about what you do and how you do it," Chinn said.

Cory Lunde, policy analyst and project manager for Western Growers, described the Know A California Farmer initiative, an interactive, online project that communicates the personal stories of California farmers and ranchers through the website www.knowacaliforniafarmer.com. The effort is being led by a broad coalition of California farmers and ranchers.

"Knowacaliforniafarmer.com is a way for farmers and ranchers to become engaged in social media to share their stories directly with consumers," Lunde said. "Following the passage of Proposition 2, we realized that we were not doing a good enough job communicating our stories with the public. We brought industry together to facilitate greater collaboration, consumer messaging and public outreach."

While expressing his appreciation for young farmers' and ranchers' involvement at the conference and for raising money for FARM PAC (the California Farm Bureau Fund to Protect the Family Farm), Wenger also recommended that they become members of Farm Bureau and encourage others to become political advocates for agriculture.

Maria Azevedo of Merced County, the 2010 chair of the California YF&R State Committee, summed up what it means to be involved in YF&R.

"With each board meeting I attended, I realized one thing and that is California YF&R has a legacy. All of us who are young farmers and ranchers have a future here in California agriculture," Azevedo said. "We all share a passion for keeping agriculture alive and strong in California, and most importantly in our communities we call home."

During the conference, YF&R members participated in an agenda that featured tours, speakers and information sessions meant to educate, inspire and create bonds among fellow members.

"As young farmers and ranchers, we're all trying to make a difference and make decisions necessary to lead our industry to sustain our way of life for the next generation," said 2011 YF&R State Committee Chair Frost Pauli of Mendocino County.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.