Food for Thought Group welcomed Vance Crowe as a featured speaker in the Upson Lecture Series.
Story and photos by Melissa Poet, student writer
Farmers and ranchers have the ability to grow safe food for a hungry world by being both producer and marketer. However, in the past decade or so, theses abilities have also had to start adding farm, ranch and marketing practitioner to their requirements to consumers who are interested in the way animals are taken care of and food is grown. Many of these interested consumers are millennials who are constantly comparing food choices and the looking for more information on where their food is coming from.
Vance Crowe, Director of Millennial Engagement at Monsanto, shed light on the subject to during his lecture “Crossing over the Mountain: Memes, Networks and Outcompeting Fear” presented as part of the Upson Lectures Series on Nov. 10 at the K-State Forum Hall.
Monsanto is a company that in the past has been working on both ends of the spectrum. One end is developing new seed using technology and talking to farmers. The other end includes talking to companies on Wall Street. By talking to both ends of the spectrum, they are able to market their products by the science companies and farmers want to know about. While they are currently talking with these two spectrums, the challenge is communicating to billions of consumers in between these two groups who do not know what is going on with or in to their food and fiber.
Millennials have presented a new way of thinking that is diffusing into the culture and some of these people have been away from agriculture for generations. This new way of thinking includes memes and social networking. Memes are images of cultural meanings expressing attitudes, customs and beliefs that is passed from one generation to another and is a way for ideas to be spread easily. Memes have the ability to compress ideas. “Ideas function like genes: easy to be shared and spread,” said Crowe. Memes can also be seen as brands or labels on food and fiber products. These brands and labels may not be interpreted the way they should be, which has caused problems for the agricultural industry. These brands and labels have a way of mutating the modern agriculture idea and turn it into something that is dangerous. Crowe used the example of the new memes which have been misinterpreted as Palmer Amaranth. This weed has different genes so it is resistant to most herbicides. The same can be said for misinterpretation of modern agriculture by millennials.
Agriculturalists and advocates for the industry need to be talking to these people and finding the right people to show up and talk to them- whether it is scientists, breeders, researchers, farmers or marketers. Crowe stated the need to communicate with millennials using motives of virility, networking and being imperative. Virility is split into three sections: educational, surprising and allegiance. People want to learn about where their food comes from, so educate them. People get excited about facts and want to know where you stand as a producer so show them who you are, where you come from and why you do what you do. He encouraged producers and advocates to become interconnected with groups outside the agriculture industry. By doing so, facts are more likely to spread to a larger crowd and reach more people. As an advocate, be imperative and listen to consumers. Understand where they are coming from, what their perspective is, connect with them and iterate about the truths about agriculture.
The amount of people who live and work on farms counts for less than two percent of the population. Farmers and ranchers are rare and consumers want to know about their products. Crowe said “People will not care what you say, until they know you care.” In closing, Crowe challenged the audience to go out and change the world and use knowledge to spread true facts about the agriculture industry. By doing this, he said, the growing population will be more informed and have the ability to cross over mountains.