Let’s Stop ‘Educating’ Consumers

As a journalist, I’m neutral. But, inevitably and unavoidably, like every human being, I form opinions of what I hear.

An example: I remember weed scientists warning that weeds were quickly building resistance to herbicides and so farmers needed more variety in how they fought weeds. Their basic point was obviously correct — it’s natural for weeds to build resistance — but I was a little skeptical that it was happening as quickly as the weed scientists warned.

Well, they were right and I was wrong. It was happening that quickly.

But I also remember farm group officials stressing that farmers and ranchers need to “educate” consumers about agriculture. The underlying point was obviously correct — many consumers know little, if anything, about modern production ag — but talk of “educating” them seemed condescending to me.

Well, I was right about that. Over the past year, I’ve heard several smart, savvy agriculturalists talk about “connecting” with consumers and “starting a conversation” with them, rather than trying to educate them. One of the aggies even said that, in retrospect, talk of educating them was condescending and a mistake.

Aggies, pretend for a moment that you’re an urban consumer and a farmer comes up to you. Which would make a better impression: “Hi, I’m a farmer and I want to educate you” or “Hi, I’m a farmer and I wonder if you have any questions about what I do?”

If you’re involved in agriculture, don’t “educate” consumers.

Instead, start conversations with them and try to connect. Many agriculturalists are doing that already: to them, congratulations, keep it up.

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