Leadership Series | Guest Blog Post | Shaelyn Meyer
Written by Shaelyn Meyer
Being a part of the Montana Stockgrowers Leadership Series has challenged me in so many ways; some more personal than I feel comfortable sharing with the world. I will share a few personal details about why this has been an impactful program for me: It’s a very, VERY huge responsibility to be heard. It’s something that I’ve always shied away from. It’s scary! When you step up to be heard you’re opening yourself up to attack from anyone who might flat out disagree or just misinterpret what you’re saying. Let’s face it, what you SAY, is often not at all what people HEAR. Effective communication takes skill, skill comes from practice, and practice is best performed with coaching. I’m being coached through the MSGA Leadership Series.
Another thing I’ve realized since I started paying more attention to advocacy and leadership is that people are getting tired of being misinformed and they’re tired of disrespect. The agriculture industry is under attack and being taken for granted. We in the ag industry aren’t innocent of disrespect however: can you remember a time when you’ve reacted to someone’s criticism of agriculture with sarcasm (aka disrespect)? I think we’re all guilty of that.
First we have to listen. We have to identify the values we have in common with our audience. In our case, our audience is consumers of food… so basically everyone; that’s not a monumental task at all. Let’s simplify: I think, in general, consumers want to know that we aren’t degrading the land and that we are treating our animals with respect. How can we show that we hold those values as well and do it in a way that people will listen? That, in a nutshell, is what advocacy is all about. It’s about conveying values and respecting people. Showing respect for others is difficult in the face of some of the tactics used by animal rights groups for example, but I know that it’s absolutely the only way that we’ll gain respect from consumers.
Through the skills I’m practicing in the Leadership Series program, I am better able to approach both sides of the issue with a desire to first understand and then respond in a clear, concise way that people can appreciate and understand. My role as an MSU Extension Agent, puts me in a position to work with both producers on quality assurance and sustainable land management AND be a credible source of information for consumers. It’s a responsibility I want to be prepared as possible for.
Considering the changes that agriculture has made in just the past 50 years, and that the average American is at least 3 generations removed from farming, it’s apparent that people are struggling to catch up and understand why agriculture has changed. Combined with misinformation and anti-ag propaganda, it’s no wonder people are confused and angry. Let’s have patience and understanding and know that we can step in and lift the curtain and let people see what agriculture is really like in Montana. It’s a beautiful thing.
The Leadership Series is made possible through the support of MSGA’s Research Education and Endowment Foundation. Want to learn more about our Leadership Series? Check out the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.