Speaking up and advocating for something you love, can be a rewarding experience. It can also be overwhelming and intimidating, but if you push through, the rewards far outnumber the ‘what if’s’. This is a lesson I learned first-hand last week by participating on a panel for CropLife America’s 2014 Policy Conference. Traveling across the country to speak about what I do was a massive shock to my system, in the best way possible.
I was not the only multi-generation ag woman at this conference. My new friend Julia Dedes, was in the audience. In fact, I noticed her because she spoke up. She identified herself as a farm kid, then proceeded to blow the room away with a stellar question. I was so impressed, I turned around and took a picture of her, so I could lurk her later.
I did speak with Julia after the conference and we also connected on twitter. She graciously offered to write a guest post about her experience with the conference. I was thrilled to read our feelings about our experience last week, mirrored each other.
I have been very vocal with my efforts and urgings for agriculture to open our barn doors. But we must do more than offer transparency. We must engage. I plan on covering this topic more, in future posts, but Julia is right, we must use our voices.
Empowering Inquiring Agricultural Minds
Today, I attended the 2014 National Policy Conference of CropLife America. Did I lose you? Keep reading, it was not just another board meeting.
Living in the Washington, DC, area, I take any chance I get to attend broader agricultural events. I seek out information from other commodities, other organizations and particularly other viewpoints CropLife brought together speakers from all sectors of agriculture and conservation, from a sixth generation California cattle rancher to Honest Tea to the Nature Conservancy. Ali Velshi, formerly of CNN now with Al Jezeera America, was master of ceremonies, artfully weaving crowd comments into poignant debate.
One speaker answered an Ali Velshi remark saying, in his work, he gave a voice to the emotive opposition to the stiff scientific claims on a very contentious topic (to be named on another day).
Neurons flared! I had a question. Why did this emotional, sometimes misinformed, perspective get equal voice with a life-saving technology, scientifically safe and valuable? Furthermore, if both of these viewpoints had equal time and space, did readers or listeners really even consider the other side of the argument? Or did they simply laserpoint in on the viewpoint they already shared?
Burning questions! But, in a room full of experts, I was shy to stand at the microphone. So, I tweeted it.
“Does equal coverage of inequal science educate or reinforce consumers’ confirmation bias?”
And, bam! there it was! Asked by Ali Velshi on a national stage. Success! Well, except for the fact that I spent so much effort into smartly wording my question that no one could understand it. Communications fail.
The question was answered, in its own way, but after a break and another panel, I decided to give it another go. So, I approached Ali Velshi (gulp!) and explained myself. Little did I know what would be the outcome.
After lunch, a panel of journalists took the stage. And, true to his promise, Ali Velshi retooled my question and posed it again. The topic took off! The entire room was engaged (some even enraged)! Just because I had taken the time to go and explain my less than 140 characters in person.
The panel continued their discussion and the conversation grew more heated. And I grew bolder. So, after conflicting comments, I DID step up to the microphone. In front of a room full of those with far more experience and far more expertise than myself, I posed a second question.
The short version: “If science is not credible and story-telling is a disservice, how should we in ag communicate with consumers?”
A visible reaction from the audience. And an even greater emotive response from the panel. So much so that I followed up with one of the speakers to further continue the train of thought after she left the stage.
Ali Velshi even thanked me for my additional question at the end of the day. Oh my! (blush)
My takeaway today, just as much as the specific issues we discussed, use your voice. And you will be heard.
I could have sat there, thinking about my observation. I could have typed it in my notes and talked about it with my boss come the next work day. I could have said nothing, done nothing – and absolutely nothing would have been the result.
So, the next time you are sitting in the audience at an event – large or small – move from passive to participation! If you have a question or a comment that you want the answer to, do not be afraid. Instead, just use your voice. You never know who might listen if you do.
PS: Ali Velshi is welcome to a good conversation at my table anytime.
PPS: If anyone has any ag-related questions they want to ask, please do! Ask away – I may not know the answer, but I will hep you track down who does!
Julia Debes is the Assistant Director of Communications at U.S. Wheat Associates where she tracks news on the wheat industry as well as puts together newsletters and other publications. She’s also a fifth generation farm girl from central Kansas, where her parents operate a wheat and cattle operation.