Why sharing your story matters

By Andrew Campbell

Editor’s note: Andrew Campbell is a dairy farmer and award-winning storyteller based in southern Ontario. He presented the closing plenary session during the 2023 Banff Pork Seminar. He can be contacted at andrew@thefreshair.ca.

Campbell is not a fan of the mentality, ‘mine is better than yours,’ when it comes to evaluating farming practices. He believes diversity and choice are better for instilling consumer confidence in the entire industry.

Whether it is a pig farmer, veterinarian, feed truck driver or dozens of other jobs in Canada’s pork sector, anyone I’ve ever talked to has been proud to be involved in the industry. Maybe it’s the $24-billion impact pork has in Canada or the 25 million animals that are produced to supply billions of servings of nutritional protein around the world. Or maybe it’s the more than 100,000 jobs that are supported by 7,000 farmers. Whatever the reason, anyone in the pork sector is proud to be there.

But then when you go outside the sector, and especially when you go beyond the agriculture industry, there are millions of Canadians who are unaware of these impacts, let alone how that pork chop or rib ended up on their plate.

For the generations before today, you could argue it didn’t matter. People bought based on price, taste and quality, and any other factor wasn’t relevant. Today is different. Today, those attributes may still trump other concerns, but consumers also want to feel good about what they are eating. They want to feel good about the environmental impact, welfare of the animal, treatment of farm workers or many other issues. It’s why today is the most important time to consider what our non-farming neighbours think of pork production and how pigs are raised in this country.

After all, if they don’t know and hear something on television or read something online that isn’t true and attacks the current system, is it fair to think that consumer will start a research journey? Will they investigate all sides of a discussion? Will they ensure they only read peer-reviewed articles? Of course not. The reality today is everyone is in information overload, and quite simply, if the pork sector doesn’t come to the table with its own story, then, to consumers, that side of the story simply doesn’t exist.

And without the pork side of the story, it can lead to companies like processors or retailers demanding new production practices or governments stepping in with regulations making it more difficult to raise pigs in an environment that may actually be better for animal health or farm productivity.

It’s why sharing your story matters, and you’ve got to be prepared to talk about it. Here are four things to keep in mind when doing that, whether it be in simple one-on-one conversations or to larger audiences, like over social media.

Facts aren’t as important as feeling good

When it comes to modern farming, consumers are being inundated with information. Most of it doesn’t matter to them as much their personal preferences, regardless of ‘truth.’

Maybe this is an oversimplification of an issue, but the reality is consumers don’t necessarily trust every fact as truth.

An easy example would be the Canadian Pork Council commissioning a study that finds eating pork is good for you. I’d believe that, because I know the importance of animal protein in my diet. But others will treat it as boughten research, stating that, of course the pork council says pork is good for you. It’s why simply coming out with facts, statistics and research data isn’t going to cut it. Think instead about perception and how people perceive facts.

Feeling good is better than feeling guilty

At the end of the day, most people just want to feel good. They want to feel good about what they ate, the impact they had, and avoid anything that makes them feel guilty or fearful. Just look at what pork has to offer: a source of protein or Vitamin B12 are easy sells for those looking at the label. Bacon and ribs as a source of ‘deliciousness’? Even better!

It’s really not hard to get people to feel good. However, if anything else is nagging them about why they shouldn’t eat pork, they simply won’t. There are just too many other options on the grocery store shelf to worry about feeling guilty.

You don’t need to win

It’s a habit we all share. The habit that we want to convince someone we are talking with that we are right, and their point of view is wrong. I always question how often that has worked with your spouse or teenager. Usually zero per cent of the time.

Don’t think of every opportunity to connect as an opportunity to change minds or to educate them on why you are right. Instead, focus on just having a conversation. Focus on learning where their point-of-view comes from and connect their concerns to your concerns. That way, you’ll be able to simply share your perspective that will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on how they view a particular issue.

You do need to find common ground

Part of how people perceive facts is by understanding what is important to them. By thinking about shared values, farmers and consumers can actually find a lot in common. Things like raising kids or the importance of family, concerns about sustainability, or community involvement are all things that farmers and non-farmers share. Why not start the conversation there, to find what those shared values are, and then tie-in why those values impact how you run your business.

So step up and share your story! No-one else is going to do it for you.