Growing pains

As the agvocacy effort grows and matures, the nature of how we are connected, how we work together changes as well.  In the early days, almost everyone in agvocacy, or at least the social media component of advocating for agriculture, worked directly together.  Early efforts such as yellowfail, #moo, the weekly #agchat conversation, the early formation of AgChat Foundation, if you were involved much at all in agvocacy, you were closely connected with others doing the same.   (And for the purpose of this post, agvocacy refers to social media agriculture advocacy – to claim that agvocacy began with social media is to fail to acknowledge the many individuals and organizations who were involved in helping connect and share the modern agriculture miracle with a questioning public for many, many years, long before we had heard of Twitter or Facebook.)

It’s a lot different today.  While I think that is a good thing, it’s not without some growing pains.  For me personally, I’ve written before that on any personality test, I am a very strong introvert.  One of the results of that is that my connections are fairly few in nature, but the ones I have are often quite intense.  As agvocacy has evolved, as my role has shifted, as others have went different directions, those that I work regularly with has shifted as well.  However, I know this.. Everyone I have EVER met in this work is just as passionate, believes just as strongly, cares just as much about sharing, teaching, building connections as ever.

The example I think of is this:  I am a Kansas cattle feeder, it’s the specific little corner of agriculture I’m in.  Yet, I have no connection to a very large percentage of other Kansas farmers, or other cattle feeders.  As social media evolves, it works the same way.  I only have a relative handful of folks I am in regular contact with.

Now, for all you extroverts out there, those of you that maintain many, many numbers of friends and contacts.  First I envy you..  Well, I envy you until I’ve had to be involved with a large group of people for more than a few hours, than I don’t envy you at all, quiet solitude never looked better!  But the same basic principle applies.  I don’t know what the maximum number of realistic contacts is?  I do know even for the best at this there is an upper limit.  It doesn’t matter how many followers, friends, admirers, or creepers you have.. there is a finite (relatively small) number of people we can truly be connected to.

But this is not a bad thing, it is just reality.  If I was a better graphic artist I would draw a diagram.. there’s not a huge rope linking some of us to massive numbers of people  there’s an interconnected web, some of us with thicker strands than others, but each just a relatively small strand, linking to a few, those few to a few more, back around to others..  In the end, the strength of the agvocacy movement is the interwoven set of multiple connections, not the size of our individual Rolodex (some of you may have to Google that..).

Yea, I realize that would be soo much better with a visual!

You might be an #agnerd if

Your highlight of an event filled Superbowl, was Dodge’s “God Made a Farmer” commercial.

And you may be at the very top of the #agnerd heap if you’ve already blogged about the experience!  Listed in the approximate order I found these posts last night and this morning:

Carrie Mess talking about how she hopes this is read at her funeral..  No Carrie’s not morbid like that, this just hit close to her heart.

Katie Pinke found hope and peace.  And reflected on the dual worlds of marketing and agriculture she has spent her life in.

Janice Person shares her excitement over seeing the ad for the first time.  And did you catch she dropped out of the end of #blogchat to do this?  This might make the ultimate #agnerd

Shaun Haney/Lindsey Smith – Even our Canadian friends got in on the action with this post on realagriculture.com

Brian Scott, farmer from Indiana, adds his thoughts as well.  

Brooke Clay has a short post of thankfulness up

Sarah Bedgar Wilson shares her thoughts.  Fortunately there’s the internet archive as Sarah missed the real time event!

Brandi Buzzard Frobose talks about why this is her favorite commercial of the night.  She also mentions the Clydesdales, which might have done better in the ag community if there hadn’t been such strong competition!

It brings a lot of joy and happiness to first, see Dodge and whoever is doing their creative work being willing to take the risk of remembering farmers and not ignoring the delicate issue of faith in a public forum.  And a shoutout to all of my Agnerd friends who by putting the story in your own words have helped make it a milestone event for agriculture!

 

Are you an advocate and wrote about this?  drop me a note, I’d love to know and add to the list!

When Worlds Collide

My public online life is mostly consumed by agriculture.  My faith as a Christian is an important part of my life as well.  Sometimes, I find the two intersecting in strange and fascinating ways.

I find winter a good time to read, and I’ve been reading works by a couple of authors that for the sake of this post fall slightly outside mainstream Christian thinking in this country.  It’s easy to find perspectives online about these authors.  Oftentimes I find them accused of various travesties against the Word of God.  Or they are accused of seeking publicity, financial gain, etc.  Yet, when I read their work, what I mostly find is personal stories of their journeys through life, how they got to where they are at in their faith or beliefs. I do not claim to have a direct line to God to know if they are “right”, but I do find their experiences inspirational.

The parallels in the ag industry are strong.  For the massive industry that has become our modern food supply, it is simply made up of individuals – farmers, researchers, truck drivers, janitors, assembly line workers, many, many more.  All with individual stories to tell.  It can be so easy to bad mouth the system, or badmouth a way something is done, but the vast majority of the time you simply have individuals doing the best they can with what they have.  Is it right?  Is it how things should be done?  Little different than religion, those are great philosophical questions, but the system as it exists, is simply made up of individuals taking what they know, what they have, and trying to do their job.  I think that’s an important thing to understand.

Now, after that quick thought, back to my book…

WordPress enhances their blog stats

Nothing like a bit of stats news to add a bit of life support to my apparently dead blog.

If your running a WordPress blog, they added a new stat to their standard stats package today, and it’s an important one.  

Image

I need to make clear this is NOT my blog stats (I could only dream of such numbers!)  But it clearly shows the visitors in the dark blue bars vs. the pageviews in the light blue.  Hovering over each bar will also give a pages/visitor number that is what we really care about.

It’s important to understand what this new metric is.  It is a measure of the unique visitors your blog had.  Wordpress has always showed pageviews, so if one person came and looked at 10 pages, it would look the same on your stats as if 10 people each looked at a single different page.  

This metric is important as it shows how much or little folks are browsing around your site.  It does only go back a couple of weeks, so the data going forward will be what is important and we can learn from.  Looking at the handful of blogs I have stat access to, it appears like the majority of blogs run a pages per visitor number of 1.3 to 1.5 most of the time.  We all know that most people simply look at a single post and move on (think about how you browse the web), so anytime that number pushes towards 2 it indicates there’s quite a bit of browsing on your site.

Don’t over-react to this number, it often will actually be inverse to your blog’s popularity.  If you write a popular post that gets quite a bit of sharing and traffic, it’s likely most of those visitors will read the single post and leave, driving your pages/visitor number down.  Likewise, if your blog isn’t very active <raises hand>  your pages/visitor may be higher simply because the majority of your visitors are likely folks that check out your blog wanting to know more about you and may read a few posts.   So while there’s no “right” number here, but it is a useful metric to better understand how folks are using your blog.

One other tip, it also appears this stat will show up on the weekly and monthly views, so if trying to get new visitors to read more of your blog is a goal, and you like messing around with your blog’s design, etc.  <does NOT raise hand>  this new metric is a very useful way to track over time how successful your efforts are there.

 

Politics and Agvocacy

It’s no secret that the ag community is significantly more conservative/Republican than the average American voter.  Last evening, I did a quick little review of some random data in social media that kinda drove the point home for me.  But I think it’s worth thinking about what it means for agvocacy, what this significant difference in outlook means for connecting farmers with their urban counterparts.

First, before I go any further, I want to acknowledge there is a very significant, passionate, group of agriculturalists out there who consImageider themselves liberal in most every sense of the word.  I’ve had an opportunity to visit in-depth with a couple of them, and the disconnect they themselves feel at times from the larger ag community surprised me. They can be organic farmers, they can be “big ag,” but they are passionate about agriculture and their politics just as conservatives are.

Secondly, this post is not about one of those “let’s all hold hands and get along things.”  None of that touchy, feely, compromise stuff from me :).  What I do want each of us (starting with myself) to think about is how our own beliefs, life experiences, etc. shape who we are, shape our outlook, and maybe most importantly our the unique lenses through which we and others view the world.  What we may consider a fairly harmless jab at the disgraces of liberalism, someone else can easily perceive as a direct attack on their core values.  What we perceive as just routine “coffee-shop” (or social media) talk, someone else may view as a fairly radical agenda.

The risk we face is that when belief systems are so radically different, it can be difficult to even get to the point of being able to honestly and openly discuss the critical matters we face in agriculture such as animal welfare or biotech opportunities and challenges.  This is not a blog post with clear answers to this dilemma, I would certainly welcome thoughts and input, and just point out a couple of things.

Most farmers, ESPECIALLY those farmers involved in agvocacy,  have a deep desire to share their experiences.  The key here is to “share,” which indicates some kind of mutual conversation and learning.  I have no doubt many of your city neighbors (liberal or conservative) would truly be interested in why or how you think the way you do, if the tone and words you open the conversation with don’t cause defenses to go up immediately. And if you make people react strongly to your political beliefs, there may be an assumption that similar reactions are in order when it comes to topics in food and agriculture.

As a starting point, I think we need to be realistic about what the agvocacy political landscape really looks like.  After that, it’s like most things, practice and experience are the best teachers.  Rather than just “writing off” the next political thought you hear or read that you disagree with, think a bit about why the person would feel that way, try to relate in some small way.  Follow a few political types in social media that think differently than you.  Try to refrain from throwing bricks at your monitor or phone, and you might be surprised at the positive results a sometimes different perspective can bring.  And remember, outside the few of you that harbor strong political ambitions, you’re not really in this to talk politics, you’re in it to talk agriculture.  Think about your ultimate goal — is it to persuade someone to vote for your candidate of choice or to be sure political differences don’t stand in the way of the food and farming conversation you’re really after?

Inspiration

I’ll admit, when it comes to agvocacy I’ve been in somewhat of a rut lately.  Almost all of my agvocacy work involves the Agchat Foundation and my role there.  I just haven’t felt like I’ve been real involved.  Our organization is moving along, we concluded what seems to be an incredibly successful conference in August, we know have two awesome part-time staff members that take care of all the day to day work those of us that launched the Foundation used to have to do.  So all is well, except that personally I’ve felt a bit dis-connected, that I haven’t been doing much or that involved lately.

Tonight, that feeling changed, at least for the moment.  We had a very long, but fairly uneventful board meeting.  Doesn’t seem like we decided much, but a lot was discussed.  Afterwards, I had quite a few followup emails, chat, and txt conversations.  Some pertaining to the board meeting, some more general in nature.  Out of it all, I feel very inspired.

This is a weird phenomenon for me..   In my former life (pre-social media) I worked on the farm, and in my free/spare time I crunched data.  It was a lot of fun, but there was almost no people interaction, and I got inspiration from seeing data presented in new ways, little inspirations and nuggets of info I gleamed.  So, in the bigger picture tonight can seem like a bunch of “wasted” time having pointless conversations/discussions, whether as a board or individually.

Yet, I remember a specific time this happened before. Back when Google Buzz was the hangout for the cool ag kids.  A specific point where there was a lot of seemingly pointless interaction, and yet, coming of that, I had a lot of inspiration to push forward into new areas.  This is all quite fascinating to me.  I know that I am an almost off-the-scale introvert, and yet, most of my most inspirational moments seem to come from interactions with people.  Of note, it’s not interactions with large groups of people, but it is interactions vs. the isolation I used to so prefer.

My point here?  I’m not sure, although in the ongoing effort at self improvement, to better serve and support those we work with, understanding what inspires/motivates us each individually seems relevant.

Remembering 9/11

Much like my parents generation at the time of the Kennedy assassination, I remember specifically where I was standing, what I was doing.  I was in front of our shop, when over the pickup radio I heard that a plane had struck one of the twin towers.  At the time, it seemed like a freak accident, and the news was treating it mostly as such.

Being somewhat of a news junkie, but without access to a television.  (Smart phones were unheard of, internet access was slow as molasses dialup)  I turned to the news resource I usually relied on – our DTN unit.  For those unfamiliar with DTN, it was an ag specific market/news/weather terminal and service that was in it’s prime before such information moved to the internet.)

Fortunately, the DTN had an AP breaking headlines/news section, and I remember the exact moment when the headline came across that a second tower had been hit.  At that very moment, I think EVERYONE knew, without any doubt, that this was no accident.  That we were watching the most cold, cruel attack on innocent civilians that America had ever and hopefully will ever know.  It was that specific moment when the headline of a second plane hit that will forever be etched in memory.

I could write about the aftermath, the time I spent in the hospital a few days later watching the event continually, the specific memory there was watching Bush land at the site and give a short talk.  I could write about the dramatically increased security that travelers now face, about many things.

But today, I think most of the individuals and families who are no longer with those they love, and the heartache and pain this day surely brings back.  So much separation - those that died in the attacks themselves, those that have been killed in the fighting since, and the many, many more who go to bed with heartache every night hoping, praying for the safe return of those they love.

Today, my thoughts and prayers are with them.

 

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