Inside Dairy met three farmers with a passion for sharing the dairy story.
From classroom to cow shed
Canterbury farmers Michael and Susie Woodward know that many children have little or no experience of farming life. They’re helping to change that by hosting school visits to their Leeston farm, where they milk 1050 cows.
Michael, who is Federated Farmers' North Canterbury dairy chair, says he thinks it’s up to farmers to share their lifestyle. “It’s a great way to engage and educate children about what happens on-farm, and ultimately, if it creates a spark and brings young people to the industry, that’s a bonus. The parents and teachers go away better informed as well. We really appreciate our farm owners, Theland Purata Farms, allowing us to host these sort of events on-farm.”
Last month, as part of DairyNZ’s education programme, the Woodwards hosted 75 excited children from Riccarton Primary School. Accompanied by teachers and parents, the five- to seven-year-old students were from Tongan, Samoan, Filipino and Kiwi backgrounds. Teacher Caroline Vercoe says the day was an outstanding success and the children are still talking about it.
“The children had the best day at the farm. Most of them hadn’t been anywhere near a farm, let alone a cow. It was lovely to see how engaged and positive they were. Even children who are usually quiet blossomed and couldn’t stop talking," says Caroline.
Many of our children don’t get an opportunity to see the world away from their front doorstep, so this was an ideal chance for them to extend their thinking.
“Some of the highlights were running and rolling in the grass, seeing the cows milked, meeting the dogs, learning about milk products – ice cream was number one – and watching the calves being fed. The parents who came with us thoroughly enjoyed the day too – many of them were relatively new to New Zealand and were fascinated by what they saw.
“We appreciated the effort Michael, Susie and the farm team put in to show the kids all they did. They went above and beyond what I expected. I can’t thank them enough,” says Caroline.
If you’re keen to host a school visit or visit a school to talk about dairy farming, register with the Rosie’s Education Find a Farmer service at dairynz.co.nz/rosieseducation
Sharing her story, one tweet at a time
During a Dairy Women’s Network conference a few years ago, Waikato dairy farmer Marilyn Baldwin listened as delegates were encouraged to tell their positive farming stories. That’s when she decided to have a crack at using social media to share her farm life with the world.
Marilyn had used Facebook to communicate with family and friends since 2008, but in 2013 she joined Twitter (a social media platform which lets users post short messages known as ‘tweets’) to promote farming.
“Being involved in social media is like having a conversation in a public place,” says Marilyn. “My Twitter posts are all related to agriculture. While you choose the tone of your newsfeed, in a public forum like Twitter, you don’t choose your followers.”
Marilyn, who owns a 220ha (effective) farm with husband Gray in Puta-ruru, has built an audience of 1900 followers since she started tweeting. She posts a couple of messages weekly using her smartphone.
“To begin with, I just connected with other farmers but my followers have grown to include locals, journalists, schools and government departments.
“The people who follow me seem to enjoy simple shots of what’s happening on our farm, like a photo of the native trees we’re planting in our wetland or a stunning sunrise while we’re milking the cows. It’s my way of showing the world what we love about being farmers.”
For a week in August this year, Marilyn hosted the Farms of the World Twitter account, which shares stories of farms and farmers from around the world. Marilyn shared 200 tweets that week and the most popular was a quick snap she took of her cows coming down the race on a bitterly cold morning (see the photo above). That photo of the cows with steam rising from their backs attracted 8000 views and many new followers.
Marilyn’s Twitter tips
- Think twice before device – carefully read what you’ve written before you make it live.
- If you’re sharing photos, add a clear caption to explain what’s happening and prevent confusion.
Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are a great way to share good farming stories, celebrate successes and connect with others. If you want to get started on social media, download DairyNZ’s free Social Media 101 guide at dairynz.co.nz/social-media
Follow Marilyn on Twitter – @marilyn_baldwin
Follow Farms of the World on Twitter – @FarmsOfTheWorld
Finding a new approach
Earlier this year, Canterbury dairy farmer Cameron Henderson decided to take an in-depth look at why storytelling is so effective and how farmers can get better at it.
That research, which Cameron carried out while taking part in the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme, has changed his approach to challenging negative perceptions of dairying.
“In my research, I decided to investigate the so called ruralurban divide and the poor opinion urban dwellers seem to have of farming. But on delving into various surveys, I found this commonly-held viewpoint has no basis in fact,” says Cameron.
“In the age of social media, where everyone has a voice, it seems the vocal minority is drowning out the silent majority, so I don’t see the issue of the rural-urban divide being as great as we thought.”
Cameron talked with some of the vocal few and found their perceptions are based on different values, emotions, experiences, and logic.
“Perceptions, like beliefs, are very personal, so in my interactions with people, I now try to understand and show respect for different points of view. Challenging perceptions can sometimes be seen as a personal attack, so I try to avoid this at all costs. Instead I politely ask questions to challenge their thinking rather than replace it with mine. I learnt this tactic, called the ‘coach approach’, during the Kellogg programme.”
Cameron says members of the public are rarely the decisionmakers on important matters like legislation relating to farming.
“My approach is to focus more on the perceptions of those who make the influential decisions. I think the rural sector is particularly good at this through industry levy groups and Federated Farmers, but it would help if they worked together more often.”
Meanwhile, Cameron is also leading a project, with support from Environment Canterbury, to create entertaining short videos for social media.
“These videos will bust a few misconceptions about the effects of irrigation and intensive farming. It’s an experiment to find effective ways of reaching the public and telling the dairy farming story.”
- Think about how what you’re doing on-farm might look to others driving past.
- Don’t engage with negative articles online; when you comment on or ‘like’ an article, it climbs higher up the news feeds, so you’re simply promoting it. If you do engage, try asking questions rather than making statements.
- Share the good stories. Photos and videos work best. Promote other farmers’ stories with a ‘like’ or a comment.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy December 2017