Comment: Should agriculture advocacy become activism?

The term ‘agvocate’ has made the agriculture sector feel good but probably doesn’t resonate with consumers

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“Activist — A person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.”

“Activism — Consists of efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society.”

The word “activist” appears to be a word that has gone mainstream.

There are human rights activists, political activists, gender equality activists, climate change activists and animal activists to name a few — the last are activists our agri-food sector knows well.

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The first memorable activist I can remember from my childhood was Canadian environmental activist, David Suzuki. Sixteen-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg may now have dethroned Suzuki in that area.

It seems like every meeting, gathering or social circle of agri-food enthusiasts I’m with, eventually an activist story is told. More likely than not, venting ensues.

The occurrence and severity of animal activism has grown in the last decade. Perhaps it’s become more mainstream since social media started? We may never know. But the extremists in the animal activist world have made it known who they are and what they are willing to fight for and the measures to which they’ll go to prove their point.

Animal activists are not the people we should be spending our time or energy on.

Chances are, even if we try and engage with them, we most likely won’t change their views or opinions on how they view our industry. Their values don’t align with ours… and that is OK. It is always a good reminder to tell ourselves that these activists are the loud minority of consumers that while vocal, are not where our focus should be.

Our target audience focus should be with the consumers that are the silent majority or moveable middle.

These are the consumers that don’t speak out about food in a loud way, but may have their interest sparked and do more research after seeing a food-related news article on Facebook or because their friend mentioned the latest food trend.

These consumers are where our sweet spot lies in agriculture and food.

These are the consumers to which our communications efforts should be concentrated.

After hearing the word “activist” mentioned time after time as more commonplace in society, it has me reflecting on our own use of the words “agricultural advocate” or “agvocate” in shortform.

Many of us in agriculture are proud to be advocates, trying to dispel myths one tweet at a time — promoting a positive image for our industry with our photos and thoughts on vehicles like social media.

We even have well-known Ontario ag influencers like dairy farmer Tim May (@MayhavenFarms) on Facebook, sheep farmer Sandi Brock (Sheepishly Me) on YouTube and dairy farmer Andrew Campbell (@FreshAirFarmer) on Twitter.

If a consumer from outside of agriculture was to land on the Twitter or social media profile of someone in agriculture whose profile read “agvocate,” would that consumer really know what agvocate stood for? It is a term we created internally within our own sector that only our agri-food industry understands. Would our target audience of a Canadian consumers understand what ‘agvocate’ stood for?

If the purpose of creating the word “agvocate” was to make ourselves feel good, then goal achieved.

But if our goal was to bring more people into our agri-food community to help them better understand who we are, what we do, why/how we’re growing, producing and harvesting food for them, then perhaps we’ve missed the mark with the word “agvocate.”

If we’re to think more strategically about what would resonate with consumers to help them understand why we’re so passionate about what we do and why farmers have an immense pride in growing, producing and making food for people — what if we used the word “activist” instead?

What if we learned from our counterparts and embraced the words “agricultural activist” or “food activist?”

What would make us any different from other activists?

We want positive change for our sector.

We want to better serve our Canadian consumers and consumers around the world. We want to operate in an industry that is not under attack. We have the same goal as a consumer does — we want and need food in our belly at the end of the day.

Our role in agri-food is to provide affordable, healthy food options for an ever-changing consumer. There is such an emotional tie to food.

That’s an admirable cause that many can get behind, is it not?

What if “agriculture activist” or “food activist” resonated with the people we’re trying to connect with, and more consumers found us relatable?

Would the word “activist” characterize the passion and purpose we put into food to relate to the consumer in a better way?

Or would the “activist” word turn off the intended target audience of consumers we need to have better communication with?

Something to think about. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, send me a tweet at @CrowleyArklie.

Christina Crowley-Arklie works in social media in agri-food, is the digital media strategist and founder behind Crowley + Arklie Strategy & Co., is a former political staffer, dairy farmer’s daughter and has spent her life in agriculture.

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