Ontario Agriculture

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Winning hearts one million views at a time

by Owen Roberts, Urban Cowboy 

Agriculture has long wondered how to get the public and other decision makers to pay attention to it — to see it is different, new and exciting.

Well, here’s one approach that as of late has been endorsed a million times: Go back to your roots.

Last week, London-based Farms.com announced that an unassuming video put together last summer by one of its interns, Mackenna Roth, has reached a video plateau normally reserved for scandal, tragedy and rock stars. God Made A Farmer, an accessible, digestible PowerPoint video barely two-and-a-half minutes long, has now garnered one million views on the farms.com website.

The PowerPoint images provide a backdrop for an original, live-audience narrative by legendary radio voice Paul Harvey (of “The Rest of the Story” fame). In it, the renowned broadcaster, who died in 2009, squeezes the realities and the romance out of farming, with his one-of-a-kind delivery. Based on the biblical story of Creation, Harvey takes journalistic licence to describe how, on the eighth day, God made a farmer to be the caretaker of the planned paradise. The narrative goes like this:

“God said I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board, so God made a farmer … God said I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt, and watch it die, then dry his eyes, and say ‘maybe next year’ … so God made a farmer.”

You get the picture. Big arms, big heart, big soul.

People love this image, whether they live in Woolwich Township or downtown Toronto. We know from public opinion surveys that farmers are among the most respected professionals, right up at the top alongside those who serve the public, such as nurses, scientists, firefighters and other first responders.

Interestingly, it seems farmers like the here-to-help image too, even though they shy away from it in public. As a website, Farms.com mainly attracts farmers. And although the God Made A Farmer video has gone viral, many of the initial views that propelled it into the stratosphere most likely came from the farming community.

Nonetheless, farmers continue to worry about their public image. For years, they bucked the hayseed stigma by explaining patiently to urbanites how complicated and sophisticated farming has become.

Indeed, it has. But I don’t think that’s what the public wants to hear.

Here’s why. I was fortunate to address the fledgling and energetic Ontario Lavender Association in Guelph recently, about how farmers can involve the media in their marketing endeavours. I was asked what kind of an image I thought farmers should portray — modern, or traditional.

My response basically reflected Paul Harvey’s message: big arms, big heart, big soul. It’s modern and traditional at the same time. Why fiddle with one of the best public images in existence?

Members of the public want to know their food is being grown by real people who care about them and their families. They want to know farmers have some measure of public responsibility in their credo. Interestingly, farmers are seen differently than farming, which outside of local food circles is often villainized by some as being corporate and industrial ... even though some of farmers’ best opportunities involve the industrial use of their crops for energy and manufacturing.

Agriculture must work hard to marry the public perception of farmers with farming, and it needs farmers to do it. Farmers are the most credible spokespeople for their sector.

It takes time and effort to represent your sector. But if a million people are watching — and learning, hopefully — it’s time very well spent.

Watch God Made a Farmer at http://goo.gl/i3ooz.

Owen Robers is a journalist, research administrator and communications instructor at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

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