Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Agvocating at FM19
Every Saturday since April, I have traveled 45-minutes to Rapid City to sell retail cuts of our beef and pork, cheeses, and in an oft-head scratching turn for our customers, greeting cards and kitchen towels featuring photos I have taken.
It is a unique blend of people who shop the Black Hills Farmers Market (FM19). Like the man who told me I would be a lot more believable as a rancher if I wore boots.
Regardless of type, as people shop, they talk and ask questions. The most popular topics include how our animals are raised, are they fed GMO corn or soybeans, are they pumped full of hormones, are they given mass doses of antibiotics, or, have they ever been given antibiotics? Are they locked up their entire life? What breed are they? Where, exactly, do we farm and ranch? What is a barrow/steer/gilt/heifer?
Last Saturday I explained to a lady that the beef I had in my trailer was not implanted, but that we had implanted others in the same bunch. She replied that she certainly could not eat beef that had been near another who had been implanted. She was that sensitive to hormones.
Others have gone into great detail regarding their reactions to pink slime, GMO-corn or soybean fed beef, animals who didn’t have enough space, and the list goes on. An occasional person will nearly have a heart attack upon realizing they are holding grain-finished beef. The journalist and rancher within me would really like to get those less-ethical, emotion-based reporters by the short hairs. They may just cause more problems for our industry than the federal government.
However, in a surprising twist of events, at least to me, FM19 has become a time and place to dispute, discuss and analyze many ag-related topics people are mis- or uniformed on. Both the hot-button ones, and the general or unique ones. And, it is all done face-to-face.
For example, several people asked about antibiotic use in our beef while I was selling cuts from a steer who had foot rot. Last summer. Exactly twelve months before he was butchered. Taking the time to explain what foot rot is, what the antibiotic we gave him consists of, what its withdrawal time is (7 days), and what would have happened if we had not given him a shot (I suggest Googling advanced bovine foot rot), along with our personal feelings toward antibiotic use made us a lot of friends. “That makes sense,” was the most common response.
GMO-corn and soybeans as a feed ingredient is a harder sell, for whatever reason. Farrowing sows in crates is largely well-received upon hearing why we use them.
Most are genuinely happy to find out their purchases support a five-generation farm and ranch. I have customers who regularly ask if this venture is working financially for us, because they like our product, and buying from a legitimate farmer/rancher. Others stop by to tell me how much joy it gives them to see the videos I post online of our children helping us work our livestock, check water, put up hay, etc…
Somewhere this summer, it hit me.
While we were striving to generate some additional cash flow, and show off that our kid(s) could finally shut the gate, drive while feeding cows, or turn a pig on their bike without training wheels, our customers were creating an emotional connection through those glimpses into our daily life. That put us in the proactive versus reactive category with them, and led them to ask even questions about our lifestyle and management practices.
We became a trusted good guy.
Six months into the season, I have people who stop by to ask what we’re doing that week, how the current weather is working for or against us (most people don’t think about how much weather can mess up our work), what is the trade situation is doing to our markets, and a variety of other questions based on what we’ve previously discussed.
Skeptics return with follow-up discussion points. People smile and wave on their way by when they don’t need meat – I don’t know when a person wouldn’t need meat, either. One guy is slowly but surely getting his gilts, barrows, boars, bulls, cows, and steers sorted out and properly identified. Mentally, not literally.
I never thought participation in a farmers market would provide the degree of opportunity to agvocate that is has. Sure, I expected questions. But, it has become so much more than that, which has truly bolstered my spirits regarding the consumer we ultimately feed.
Whenever a consumer asks you something, I encourage you to take a few minutes and respond. They are almost always asking questions as a result of something they have read or watched about farming or ranching, and their sources aren’t always good ones. Rarely are they good ones. And, if they care enough to ask, they will likely take what you tell them into serious consideration.
But, be prepared, they may also track you down again wanting to know more about what we do and how we do it.