I recently had the opportunity to interview Michele Payn-Knoper about her new book, "No More Food Fights!" The book focuses on growing the conversation between farmers and ranchers and "foodies," who include chefs, dietitians and many others passionate about food and nutrition.

Click here to check out my interview with Michele, and click here to read my review of the book.

I loved the book. It provided insight about how to open up a conversation about food. It's not about making sure you say the "right" things through key messages. As Michele pointed out, it's about tailoring those key messages to the person(s) you're speaking with and personalizing them to share what you do.

Something that kept coming to my mind while reading the book was an experience from Young Dairy Leaders Institute. The program had us go out to the nearby University of New Mexico college campus and obtain responses from students and faculty about their viewpoints on the dairy industry.

These conversations often opened up responses about other agricultural products: chicken, beef, eggs, pork. Back at the hotel where the conference was being held, the YDLI group had varying opinions of how to handle this.

Some felt we should avoid talking about other industries. Stick to what we know about dairy. Point them to a website for questions about other aspects of agriculture. After all, you don't want to start a conversation about something where you don't know all of the facts.

Others felt that we do need to be able to talk about other industries. Share our own personal stories of other ag operations we've been on or the information we've heard from other agricultural producers. After all, that may be the consumer's only chance to talk to someone involved in agriculture.

So I posed this question to Michele, "Should we in the dairy industry be prepared to talk about other aspects of agriculture, or should we stick to what we know?"

Here's what she said:
That's a challenge. When I'm speaking to a dairy group, I'll ask, "Are you an expert in agriculture?" A few hands go up. If I ask, "Are you an expert in dairy?", many more hands will go up. We have to realize that we are experts in agriculture in comparison to the 98.5 percent not on a farm.

Polls are showing that some people look to HSUS as the experts in animal care. I have a fundamental problem with that. We are the people who are working with the animals. We know them best. We know how to care for them.

We have to be prepared to speak about agriculture and be familiar enough with the issues. I understand that's difficult when you're worried about running a farm. But at the end of the day, if someone wants to talk about agriculture and you're the person there, you have to be the expert. Otherwise they're going to go find the information elsewhere.

That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to know everything about all aspects of agriculture. But you likely know someone who does.

If you don't, increase your network. Especially in social media today, it's very easy to have a network where you can refer people quickly. At least know the base issues so that you can form an opinion and offer perspective on those. Building a community and reaching beyond the choir really isn't that difficult if you serve people as a resource.

As [my late friend] Leontien would have pointed out, "I don't want to be in the middle of all of the debates. I just want to talk about what I love." I think that does much more than people know. 

What are your thoughts, Proud to Dairy crowd? How can we be prepared to answer the hard-hitting questions about not just dairy, but anything related to agriculture? Do you have an experience where you went beyond your comfort zone of dairy in a conversation about food and farming? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts!  PTD

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