Good feelings

What do you do? Jennifer Dyck tested me with this question at CROPS-A-PALOOZA in Portage la Prairie in July. Jennifer is the manager of Canola Eat Well for Manitoba Canola Growers and she used her ‘PALOOZA station to coach farmers and farm industry people on how to talk to consumers. She led every encounter with “Tell me what you do?”

“Well, I write this and edit that and attend these events…,” I rambled.

“Why would people in Toronto care about that?” That was her follow up question, recognizing that Toronto is the biggest market in Canada and we want to sell them more canola oil. I talked about how, through articles in Canola Watch and Canola Digest, I encourage farmers to pay attention to thresholds when applying pesticides, to take steps to reduce erosion, to apply fertilizer in ways that improve efficiency and reduce loss. I said Toronto consumers should know that farmers live on their farms and want to protect their land, their homes and their environment as much and probably more than most other people. The answer was getting long. Jennifer was nodding along, patiently. “OK, now think about the first question again and put your answer into five words,” she said.

“I help farmers grow more with less.”

Seven words. Close enough. Jennifer put up her arms in a gesture of approval and gave me a heart and a Sharpie and asked me to write it down.

She spent the rest of the day working through this exercise with others, adding more and more hearts and catchy what-do-you-dos on a web of strings around the booth. By the end of the day, a couple hundred more of us were on our way to more meaningful and positive conversations with those outside of our industry.

“Our farmers and the ag industry excel at communicating to ourselves. We talk in jargon and acronyms. We talk in heavy science terminology. We need to bust out of our silos, re-shape our language and tell our stories using words and descriptions that create instant common ground,” Jennifer says. “We need to start conversations by introducing ourselves in a manner that compels curiosity. It is our job to break the ice. It is our job to share our stories in a manner that the listener can easily understand.”

Jennifer encourages us to think about answers to “why” questions. Why do customers need to care about what we do? Why is your piece of the food story important to them? In food and farming conversations, she encourages us to share in a positive, open, transparent, engaging manner.

She quotes author Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Canola Eat Well is a joint partnership between Alberta Canola, Manitoba Canola Growers and SaskCanola. The website, canolaeatwell.com, is geared toward consumers and shares stories about farmers, their farms and what they do to grow food. Check it out. The content will help you with some inspiring words when a customer asks about what you do and why.