"Most people here don't understand farming like you. Don't forget that."
Fourteen years ago, these words were spoken to me by the late Ronda Menke, my then advising professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. At the time I didn't realize how impactful those words would be in my future.
In my final year of studying public relations at Drake, I was encouraged to present on familiar topics for several assignments, and the natural fit for me was agriculture. I was comfortable writing about ag because I lived it and I loved it and most of all loved sharing it with others. Professor Menke was diligent about making me consider not only what I was communicating but how I was communicating. Those ideas still keep me intent on helping people find answers to questions they have instead of "educating" them about the things I adore in agriculture, like straight-up science, facts galore and the technology that drives our industry forward at light speed.
Drake is not and never will be an "ag school." I went to college with lots of kids from Chicago and Minneapolis, big cities of which I knew nothing about. They never belittled me for not knowing anything about public transportation, attending a game at Wrigley Field or that rush hour in a big city literally took an hour or more to get through, not "rush 10 minutes" like we have in Des Moines. I learned a lot about city life at the Sunday dinner table when my friends joined my family for some of my mom's home cooking on our farm that's about 30 miles from Des Moines.
Professor Menke reminded me that people simply "don't know what they don't know" and not to take it personally when they didn't understand the industry I was so passionately trying to convey. Today farmers, ranchers and people working with and for the industry have a tremendous opportunity to engage with people who consume the products we grow and raise. The relationships we cultivate are absolutely critical in the wake of "plant-based this," "lab-grown that" and a sea of confusing, misleading food marketing labels slapped onto familiar foods at the grocery store. Being a trustworthy resource is a step in the right direction when attention-grabbing, sensational headlines and fear based food and farming documentaries are all too available to provide misinformed answers to all who have questions.
Unfortunately, social media has summoned too many people to the table slinging insults and poking fun at people's lack of knowledge of agriculture. To make strides forward, I believe time would be better spent listening to gain an understanding of what people really want to know and working to help connect them with people who can help answer their questions. It's easy to glaze over the likelihood that people who aren't "farm-iliar" just don't know. Truth is, they probably don't have an opportunity to interact with anyone who is involved in agriculture at all. It is up to those of us that know and love agriculture to engage in a kind, understanding way. After all, would you want your kid's pediatrician insulting your questions at their next well-child exam?
I challenge everyone to be accepting and inviting of people's questions about agriculture. Step up and build relationships, create a welcoming environment for questions and help people outside of agriculture get the answers they seek.
And for heaven's sakes, if the opportunity arises and you aren't in the mood to deal, or something hits you the wrong way, step away from the keyboard and eat a cookie.
Or better yet, share a cookie with someone who may be looking for answers to questions they have about the food they feed their family.
Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies
By: Cristen www.foodandswine.com
Makes 12 XXL cookies
1 C butter (2 sticks)
1 1/2 C dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 1/4 C all purpose flour
3/4 bag of mini chocolate chips
*(use full bag if you like plenty of chocolate)
Granulated sugar for rolling cookies in
Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy (1-2 minutes). Add eggs, vanilla and salt. Beat 30 seconds. In a separate bowl, whisk baking soda, cream of tartar and flour together. Add to wet mixture. Slowly beat to combine. Add chocolate chips; mix only until combined. Scoop into 12 portions (I use an XL cookie scoop that is 6 oz.). Roll into balls; roll balls in granulated sugar. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, press to 1" thickness (so cookie looks like a disc), add 2 tsp more sugar on top of cookie for a "snowy" look.
Bake cookies for 15-17 minutes in a 350-degree preheated oven. Remove, let cool for 3 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm if desired. Store leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days at room temperature.