Its interesting isn’t it? There is lots of wise advice out there about how to handle negative social media and one would think Australia’s biggest employer could afford access to the right expertise in this area? Apparently not. Case in point my post yesterday on the fallout from Woolworths CEO Ralph Waters insensitive comments about Queensland dairy farmers See here.
Now I am confident there is not one person out there me included who hasn’t said something or done something they later regret especially when it affects innocent people en mass. A recent and horrifying example of this is the death of the nurse involved in the Prince Edward Hospital debacle kick-started by a prank by a Sydney Radio station
Now one-one is suggesting Ralph Waters comments fall into this category but they definitely were insensitive and unnecessary and kicking farmers in the guts who are doing it tough through no fault of their own and especially when it is a campaign heavily supported by Mr Waters company Woolworths that he is Chairman of the Board of that is significantly adding to their pain
So Woolworths any Google search will elicit the first rule of negative social media
“Be honest. If your brand makes a faux pas, apologize publicly to your fans. Ignoring the issue often makes it bigger, adding fuel to the fire”.
Ignoring the issue or hiding the fallout in this case see here has launched a campaign that is the brainchild of one very passionate young dairy farmer and super AGvocate Stephanie Tarlinton @duofreefriday and @proudlydairy
Stephanie is a young lady people listen too and I would not be the least bit surprised if Duopoly Free Friday doesn’t build to a point where it does impact on Woolworths sales on Fridays such is the innovative thinking behind the idea and the passion, genius and support networks of the founder
Hello world meet Stephanie Tarlinton
Stephanie with her #soproud parents at the recent Dairy Research Foundation Symposium where the audience voted her their favourite speaker.
This what Stephanie had to say at the symposium that reduced many in the audience to tears
Today I’d like to have a conversation with you,
But firstly so you know who you’re talking to, I’ll tell you a little about myself
- Firstly a proud dairy farmers daughter
- The 2011 Land Sydney Royal Showgirl Runner Up
- An Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion
- A National Junior Dairy Judging Final winner
- A Woolworths Agricultural Business Scholar
- A Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Rural Achiever
- A NSW Holstein Youth Exchange Awardee
And a young women who has a degree in Agricultural Business Management, loves to travel and feels just as comfortable in a pair of high heels as I do in my gumboots
My story started growing up on my family’s dairy farm which is located on the far south coast of NSW just outside of the township, Cobargo. My family has a long association with the region and in particular the dairy industry.
I have the deepest respect for the humble dairy cow which has provided for my family and wider community over the last 148 years we have been dairying.
So you ask with five generations of dairy farmers behind me what is it exactly that I am going to talk to you about.
No it’s not the quickest way to move a strip graze fence nor is it the best way to dry out the inside of your gumboot when you misjudge the depth of the creek (however Mum’s good hair dryer can perform this task if she isn’t home)
In fact the reason I am here today is to share my experiences of having conversations of change;
Conversations that inspire & engage.
Conversations which have the ability to empower another individual by sharing knowledge and experience.
Such conversations we all have the capacity to have as a way of connecting with those in the community who have not experienced a business/way of life, which is common to us all in room, dairying.
I’m referring to what is more commonly known as a way to help bridge the rural – urban divide.
The Bridge has been built however we need to open the pathway for consumers on either side to be able to connect with those involved in producing our food and fibre products.
With a considerable amount of Australia’s population living in urban centres, those classified as rural including the country’s farmers have an important role to play in reducing the separation between communities.
Engaging in a conversation with someone who has little knowledge of how their food moves from the farm gate to their plate has the potential to give them insights into the real story of modern agriculture.
Connecting with consumers on shared values increases the possibility of forming trust in farming and those whom participate in agricultural business.
Sharing personal stories allows consumers to gain insight and confidence in farming systems, ultimately building connections and breaking down barriers in society which further decreases the divide.
Members from either side of the divide consume food in order to survive and this is a fundamental feature of unity and mutual dependency. A simple discussion on the origin of a food product has the potential for rural person A to connect with urban person B to produce an outcome of greater understanding C.
A + B = C highlights the impact a single conversation can have if society will allow itself the simple pleasure to connect and challenge perceptions.
To quote Ghandi, “be the change you want to see in the world” reinforces the challenge that in order to create ways in which to build relations between the two sectors of society one must accept their role and be prepared to create opportunities for conversation.
For the agricultural sector to develop positive images and perceptions of farming practices and lifestyle, individuals who align themselves with this segment must be prepared to participate in the dialogue.
This is something that after hearing on numerous occasions the comment “oh you don’t look like a farm girl” I regularly seek out opportunities to participate in the dialogue others may see as a waste of time. As the quote behind me states I am the being the change I would like to see and that is having a greater number of consumers with an understanding of just who is putting the milk in their latte and the process it took to get it from the cow to the city cafe.
One opportunity I recently had which allowed me to participate in conversations with next generation of consumers was through the Art4Agriculture Archibull Prize program as a Young Farming Champion. In September last year I made my way to a primary and then to a secondary school in Sydney which saw me become their face of farming.
A face which they were not expecting which was clearly indicated to me “oh so YOUR the farmer” with an intrigued look up and down at my business suit and heels, with a laptop and mobile phone in hand.
I see dairy farmers as business people who work in the food supply sector and although we spend time in gumboots they are what I call “tools of the trade” much like my heels I guess!
I took this role on as it allowed me to challenge the stereotype of farmers which is so often poorly portrayed in the media, and provided me with an opportunity to share my experience of growing up on the dairy with children who do not have such a luxury and to share the great story that is dairy.
I would now like to share with you one tool I used which has allowed me to engage in conversations;
This is a conversation I have not only shared with you here today and at my schools last year but it has also been shared with the rest of the world via YouTube, In fact my video has been viewed by over 2500 hundred people, an audience I would have not been able to reach with my messages if it had not been for my desire to connect with others in the community who have been labelled on the urban side of the divide.
I believe that challenging stereotypes through highlighting our connections has the ability to show that as people we both have a mutual dependency on food and therefore on one another as a producer and a consumer
I am proud to come from a dairy farm, to be a small town girl, a rural consumer and I see this as one of my greatest assets, I have firsthand knowledge and experiences of food production and therefore I have something to share through conversation with those whom are classed as being from the bright lights of the city.
One girl who calls the bright lights of Sydney home is Year 7 student Sophia, standing second from the left in this photograph. I would now like to take a moment to read you an email I received from this young girl after being to her school
My name is Sophia and I met you when you visited our school. I am writing to you to tell you how inspiring and amazing your visit was.
My sister Olivia and I both attended your visit and it truly was a life changing experience. As we both live in a very suburban area we don’t get to see a lot of Australian Farmers. What was so incredible about your visit was that you taught our school that farmers are real people too. Your visit and video showed us just how important Australian Farmers are and just how much farmers are like us.
So I am writing to say Thank you. My family and I are originally from NZ however we moved here 5 years ago. I feel like I now understand that the foundation of Australia is made up of Farmers. You have really changed the way I think about farmers and I will now make it my mission to help spread the word, “Farmers are real people too” oh and that “farm girls love their shoes”
After reading this email I was touched at how my simple video which showed nothing more than my life on the farm, our girls aka the cows, a few pairs of shoes and some creative dance moves had the ability to inspire a young woman. I was touched at the response I received as for me I was just having a conversation about the everyday things that form life on our farm however for this particular girl my ordinary wasn’t so ordinary.
I chose to share Sophia’s story with you as I believe it is an example of how it only takes a small conversation or connection to create big outcomes. For me knowing I had planted a seed in one person’s mind regarding the way she thought about farmers provided me with the greatest sense of satisfaction and determination to then tell others about my story and encourage them to tell theirs.
In my dealings with people in the agriculture sector I have often found farmers to be very humble people, my parents are a great example of this, however I challenge you all to be inspired by the words of William James –
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does”
I believe as dairy farmers we make a difference, everyday. Everyday there is fresh, safe healthy dairy products available to consumers which have all originated from the only true white gold, milk. It does make a difference to people’s lives that is because the nation’s dairy farmers got out of bed this morning that have food on their table, jobs to go to, communities to live in, someone to call a neighbour, a friend.
I am confident there are many other ways which you all make a positive difference to someone’s life simply due to your actions as a dairy Farmer.
As farmers if we would like others in the community to acknowledge this difference we make to their lives we must be prepared to share with them, to build trust by finding common values and to firstly acknowledge and be proud of the role we play.
I see no easier way to do this then by having a chat with someone. Whether its a taxi driver, the person next to you on the plane, the person at the supermarket checkout, your hairdresser, or your child’s teacher. Share with them your story, challenge the stereotype, leave them with notion that today they met someone who is PROUD to be a dairy farmer or working in the dairy industry.
Conversations provide a key to reducing the disconnect between the farmers who grow the food and the people who buy and consume it. By acquiring education from individuals like ourselves who have firsthand knowledge in agricultural fields, it will enable those divided by urban boundaries to have informed opinions and increased understandings of what it is exactly that you do.
Actively participating in the conversations is essential for progress to be made in reducing the disparity of knowledge because if we don’t take the initiative to stand up and tell our own story someone else will. And I personally know I’d rather tell my side of the story then have someone with extreme views or uninformed opinions reaching the consumer of a product I’m proud to say I produce.
So I would now like to ask those in the audience who are proud to dairy to raise your hand…
Congratulations! I too, am proud to dairy, proud to be a part of a great industry and proud to have such a long family history associated with dairying.
I would now like to ask you all to have a conversation of change, to share your experience and wisdom
And remember every individual has the power to share knowledge regardless of which side of the classroom divide, they take a seat during story telling.
So I challenge you all to be the change we need to see to bridge the divide,
To seek opportunity to engage and educate,
Act as if what you do makes a difference as it does to the consumers of Australia
Be proud to Dairy, Always.
So in 140 characters “Stephanie stepped out in her black business shoes and her pink lipstick and wowed them with her #proud2dairy message” and she bought many in the audience to tears including me.
This wont be the last time you will hear from Stephanie Tarlinton.