Ontario farm group to turn producers into speakers

Speakers’ bureau | It’s seen as another way to interact with the public

Farmers will soon be showing up at service club and chamber of commerce meetings across Ontario to talk about genetically modified crops, growth promotants and organic production.


After years of urging farmers to use social media as a way to connect with consumers, an Ontario agriculture group is now asking them to do something different when communicating with the public: standing up in a room and talking to an audience.


Ontario Farm & Food Care plans to launch a speakers’ bureau of producers who will be available to speak at meetings across the province.


Communications manager Kelly Daynard said farmers won’t provide a standard, canned presentation at every event. Instead, producers will offer their personal perspective on farming and agricultural practices.


“It’s going to be their own thing,” Daynard said. 


Farm & Food Care is a public outreach organization that builds awareness and appreciation for farming.


It intends to officially launch the speakers’ bureau in November when it releases the latest version of Real Dirt on Farming, a booklet with information on Canadian agricultural practices.


Daynard said all Ontario farmers are welcome to participate in the speakers’ bureau. 


Farm & Food Care will provide presentation training to prepare farmers who are less experienced in public speaking. 


When the training is complete, Daynard will “challenge (producers) to go out and approach their local Lions Club, Optimist Club, school groups, town council meeting with a presentation about what they do on their farms.”


Daynard and her colleagues thought a farmer speakers’ bureau could build upon an earlier initiative called Speak Up.


For more than a decade, Daynard and Farm & Food Care executive director Crystal Mackay have trained hundreds of farmers on how to speak to journalists.


“The concept being when the urban media called, there were farmers that were comfortable telling their stories.”


The training was helpful, but some farmers weren’t satisfied.


“Now what? Do we just sit and wait for the Ottawa Citizen to phone me? How can we get more active?” Daynard said.


“Agriculture used to always be on the defensive. Something would happen and we would respond. We’ve always said here at Farm & Food Care that we would like to put the majority of our efforts into proactive work.”


Brent Royce, who raises turkeys, sheep and has 500 acres of cropland near Listowel, Ont., said he will participate in the speakers’ bureau. 


Royce, who already connects with consumers through Twitter, said speaking directly to Canadians is highly effective. 


“It may be old technology, but it’s about the easiest way of doing this,” he said. “Social media is great but you don’t get a personal connection…. Putting a face to it in some ways just makes it (more trustworthy).”


Royce said there are charismatic and compelling speakers within the agricultural industry, but the public prefers to hear information directly “from the farmer’s mouth.”


Daynard said participants will share their thoughts on controversial topics such as GM crops and neonicotinoids.


The speakers’ bureau will begin in Ontario, but Farm & Food Care is collaborating with provincial farm animal councils to introduce a similar program in Western Canada.


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