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 consider 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?