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Shattered Bottles

By Megan Silveira, FAPC Communications Graduate Assistant – When I was little (specifically before I filled the family calendar with events like horse lessons and cattle shows), my parents and I spent a lot of time camping at locations like Pismo Beach, California, and the beautiful shorelines of Oregon. My younger self would take these unnecessarily dramatic walks on the beaches, acting out imaginary scenes centered around the discovery of a washed-up bottle containing a mysterious note.

By Megan Silveira, FAPC Communications Graduate Assistant

When I was little (specifically before I filled the family calendar with events like horse lessons and cattle shows), my parents and I spent a lot of time camping at locations like Pismo Beach, California, and the beautiful shorelines of Oregon.

My younger self would take these unnecessarily dramatic walks on the beaches, acting out imaginary scenes centered around the discovery of a washed-up bottle containing a mysterious note.

The concept of “a note in a bottle” fascinated me.

I marveled at the idea that I could be separated from a potentially life-altering message by only a thin wall of glass.

If I ever found the elusive glass bottle, I would peer through the transparent wall keeping me from the scrap of paper before shattering the barrier and reading the most amazing story that had ever graced the surface of this earth.

In my defense, I did warn you about being “unnecessarily dramatic.”

Needless to say, I never did find that note in a bottle on the shoreline when I was younger.

But now, as a communicator for the food and agricultural community, I’ve discovered that perhaps the musings of my childhood may have become an analogy for the industry I call home.

I used a buzzword earlier in this post. Did you catch it?

I talked about the glass bottle being transparent.

There’s a strong possibility you glossed over this word because as a member of the food and agricultural industry you’re tired of hearing it, you dislike the connotations of the word or you’ve only come to relate the term to negative experiences.

The truth of the matter is today’s consumer cannot stop using the word “transparency.”

Our customers want to know more and more about the food production chain. They have a new desire to learn more, to see more, to understand more.

With this in mind, I have a challenge for you as an individual involved in the production and processing of food products:

EMBRACE TRANSPARENCY.

I won’t lie to you. This will not be an easy task. Because despite craving more knowledge about the industry, sometimes our consumers are not going to even try to understand what they learn. They will not always appreciate what we show them or tell them.

But that’s the amazing thing about transparency.

You consistently keep providing them with information and consistently keep showing them what we do UNTIL they understand.

Keep showing them glimpses of your operation and your role in the production of food and agricultural products. Embrace complete transparency.

People have a right to know that agriculture reaches beyond the boundaries of the dinner plate, going far enough to touch every aspect of their lives.

You and I already know the impact the food and agricultural industry has on people. If fact, we’ve got quite good at preaching about the importance of it to one another (ironic, isn’t it?) other than turning to educate people outside of the industry.

But if we don’t take that extra step towards sharing the message with the right people, the people who aren’t already involved in the industry, consumers will never know just how extensive the reach of the food and agricultural industry truly is.

Sharing our story doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, you can achieve transparency by doing something as simple as just starting a conversation.

Words are a beautiful thing and, a single conversation can be the first step you take to start personally helping build the bridge linking producers, processors and consumers.

Answer people’s questions face-to-face. Be proactive in posting pictures or videos on social media. Share the words and images of other food and agricultural operations. Admit to mistakes in the industry (because we all know the mishaps of few can be lumped to an entire group). Show them that we can adapt as time passes. Teach people what agriculture and food production are and what we as producers stand for.

And (most importantly) don’t get frustrated with our consumers.

They aren’t going to magically understand the management practices we engage in or immediately reflect the same love for the food and agricultural industry that we all have.

Providing transparency to the public might sound like a daunting task, but don’t let the word itself scare you off.

It is a manageable task. With each of us actively playing our part in relating to and communicating with the public, we can accomplish this goal of being a transparent industry.

Start being open and honest with our customers. The conversations you have, whether they be over social media or in person, have the ability to leave a lasting impact on individuals not familiar with the industry. It’s up to you to decide if that impact will be positive or negative.

Show the world in your own unique way that we as agriculturists and food manufacturers are honest, caring, humble stewards of the earth whose sole desire is to provide products for its inhabitants.

At the end of the day, embracing transparency and doing your part to share the story of agriculture and the food industry with the public will help reveal the one thing that I believe makes our industry unique – the inborn, burning passion for agriculture and food processing we all share.

If you are at all involved in the food and agricultural industry, this is likely something you can understand. We don’t just like what we do.

We love it.

We live it.

We breathe it.

Whether you raise a herd of commercial cattle, grow sweet corn, or play a part in food processing by taking a raw commodity and turning it into a high-quality end product, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

We are all united by the joy of being involved in the food and agriculture industry, no matter which sector we come from.

This passion for food and agriculture is something we all share and take pride in. And yet, it seems to be the one thing consumers don’t often have a chance to see.

So, when I said in the beginning that my scenes on the beach turned out to be an analogy, I meant that we, members of the food and agricultural industry, are like the note in the glass bottle.

The glass bottle is transparent. The note inside is visible to the naked eye.

Consumers are like my younger self – bright-eyed and eager to read what lies behind the glass.

Consumers see that there is a story to be heard and lessons to be learned.

So, what if we took it one step further?

What if we didn’t just encourage them to look through the glass, but help to shatter the wall completely?

What if we let the note out of the bottle?