I was glad to learn this week that the Iowa state legislature had adjourned without voting on a bill that would have banned unauthorized cameras on farms. In my line of work, I can commiserate with poultry and livestock farmers who are frustrated by the tactics of animal rights activists. But banning cameras on farms won’t solve the root problem(s) – meanwhile, I would like to see more farmers wielding cameras, to frame the discussion themselves for a change.
What you are afraid of, exactly, folks? That conditions on your farm will be portrayed badly? If the portrayal is accurate, then take your lumps – then listen and change. If the average Mom would be disgusted by conditions your animals live in, your crops are grown, packed or processed in, or your workers live and work in, then as your PR counsel I would tell you that it is time to change your practices. (Doing so would raise food prices, you say? There is good evidence that consumers would be willing to pay more for, for example, safer food according to Pew. Not to mention that farmers have a right to be fairly reimbursed for their work, along with all the other links in the supply chain.)
On the other hand, if you have a “good news” story to tell about your business, then by all means tell it. Own your story, tell it first, early and often, and use every forum and form of media at your disposal. You will want to tell it first, before someone with a conflicting agenda tries to paint a picture you might not like. Your obvious passion for your work and the foods you produce will speak for itself. In the process, you will build trust with your audience – consumers, government, activists, you name it.
Consumers want to know more about where their food comes from – establishing a personal connection is a large driver behind locavorism. Consumers want to know the face behind their food, the story behind their sustenance, to quote my last boss Bryan Silbermann. Cameras are one tool to help you tell your story, to help you both tell and show… and re-establish that all-important personal and emotional connection with customers that we lost somewhere along the way.
Here are some examples of produce and other ag companies that are working hard to tell their stories, using cameras and other media:
- Stemilt Growers’ promotion of family values and sustainable agriculture
- Gills Onions (check out what they are doing with all those onion peels!)
- Laura’s Lean Beef (great consumer-focused blog)
Where are you on farm cameras – aye or nay? Let me know.