“Deny the acceptance of failure.” Those are the ‘fighting’ words Mark Kelly hears every day from his wife, former Tucson Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D) AZ. Giffords, who struggles to recover from a 2011 assassination attempt, is a motivating force in Kelly’s life. He shared his story as keynote speaker at the 94th American Farm Bureau annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
What struck many farmers in the audience is not just Kelly’s commitment to his wife’s rehabilitation, but his ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ life story. Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, has commanded a space shuttle, circled the globe and flown 39 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. He claims he wasn’t a top-of-the class scholar, outstanding athlete or ‘Top Gun’ pilot. Instead, Kelly says it was hard work that got him where he is today. He’s neither spoiled, nor bitter; he’s motivating. That’s the same quality I see in so many Iowa farmers today.
When I was a reporter, I found that half the farmers I met would rather go out and dig post holes, than go on-camera and do an interview. The other half wanted to throw reporters into postholes. I’m glad to see that mindset changing. We have more than 100 Iowa farmers in our Iowa Farm Bureau ‘Speaker Corps’ who are ready to share their perspectives, do interviews and engage the public and their communities. There are many examples of this: Justin and Jennifer Dammann, who have not only shared their perspective and their family time with Iowa radio, newspaper and TV reporters, they even hosted a German TV crew on their Essex cattle farm during the height of the drought in August. Another great ‘ag-vocate’ is longtime cattle farmer Bill Couser from Nevada, who shares his story with Iowa, national and international media as well as leaders from around the globe. Larry Sailer, a Franklin County hog farmer, engages thousands of consumers through Facebook and Twitter, and has even welcomed strangers to his farm for a ‘blogger tour.’
The days are long in farming, but these farmers and so many others always make time to share their story, do a media interview, host a farm tour; these activities are the ‘rocket fuel’ of motivation that keeps them going and keeps the positive stories of farming and food production circling the globe.
These farmers aren’t just preaching to the choir and doing the ‘easy’ interviews with ag reporters who understand them and will always work to put them in the best light. They are talking to national reporters, young men and women who’ve never been on a farm, whose stories will shape opinions on food production for millions. Do some of these reporters have agendas? You bet. But, as Mark Kelly would tell us, there is nothing to be gained by always doing what is safe; what is expected; what is easy.
We shouldn’t be afraid of the hard interviews. And we certainly shouldn’t start digging postholes and ignoring the requests, either. Consumer choices and lifestyles have evolved with the times and so have farmers and food production. Getting out ahead of the message, understanding the factors that bring change, reading the trends, embracing innovation, is always something farmers have done.
There is a huge hunger for our perspective. People love farmers, not just for what they raise or what they grow, but for who they are. We will not give up telling our story. Failure to communicate, in this day and age, is not an option.
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau