This week I had the opportunity to attend and present at AG Catalyst. I was included because of my restaurant/foodservice background but I knew little about the agriculture industry or the challenges they faced prior to attending.

Here’s what I did know. I grew up in one of the oldest fishing ports in the US, Gloucester, Massachusetts. Years of overfishing those waters caused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to issue restrictions. The fishing industry that sustained Gloucester and surrounding areas for hundreds of years was drastically changing leaving many out of jobs at the same time the US economy was in crisis.

The families that relied on this trade for generations felt a seemingly sudden impact. As you can imagine they were not pleased with NOAA and staged protests outside of the NOAA offices. They wrote letters to news publications, went on the evening news in protest, and made the disappointment and anguish in their voices heard. Their livelihood was being taken away and that was the only way they knew to deal with it.

Protest NOAA

Mannequins dressed in fishing gear with nooses around their necks decorate the stage as hundreds of fishermen rally against new fishing regulations outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building in Gloucester, Mass.

I arrived early to the AG Catalyst conference and spent some time in the hotel lobby before it started. Lindsay Sankey was sitting nearby talking about the panel discussion she would be part of. I was impressed that her blog proactively addressed issues that farmers are dealing with by explaining the why behind the what. Putting herself in that position could draw a lot of criticism or negativity and she immediately gained my respect for doing it. Reading her blog Jean’s Boots are Made for Talking, backed up my first impression.

Sidenote: There were so many great presenters that this post would be way too long if I included them all. If you’re reading this and I haven’t mentioned you, I think you’re wonderful also.

Andrew Campbell gave me my next wow! moment. He grew up on a dairy and crop farm, left to pursue a career behind a news desk but returned to work on the farm he grew up on. Andrew uses his media experience off of the farm to educate and advocate around agriculture, breaking down perceptions through transparency.

In the spirit of education and transparency, Andrew made a decision that for a year, he was going to post a photo from his farm on Twitter everyday using the hashtag #farm365.

Screen shot 2015-10-21 at 8.20.03 PM

Haters gonna hate… and they did. The hashtag was flooded with messages of hate and accusations around treatment of animals that couldn’t be farther from the truth. No matter how hard you try to remove yourself from this, it can feel personal. In his case the haters began sending disturbing messages to his wife, which were personal.

There are some groups on the internet that you just have to ignore. Nothing you can say will change the way they’ve decided to perceive you. Andrew learned this lesson, as many of us have.

Andrew focused again on his goal of posting a photo from the farm everyday.  His photos show how well animals are treated on his farm. He shows how hard farmers work to put the food we have on our tables. Andrew is proactively doing whatever he can to sustain the agriculture industry.

AG Catalyst was one of Greg Peterson’s 95 speaking events in 2015. Greg and his family are 5th generation farmers primarily raising beef cattle on their farm in Assaria, Kansas. Greg is 24 but you’d never know it by how he carried himself and the confidence he had on stage singing along live with parody videos he and his brothers made “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” and Katy Perry’s Roar “Chore.” Their videos generated national and international news coverage.

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Peterson Farm Bros YouTube Channel:

Greg is a farmer that is traveling the world advocating for agriculture. He and his family also blog about misunderstood topics in agriculture and open up their farm for tours.

What I found remarkable was that the advocates I’m speaking of were young and passionate about preserving their ability to put food on our tables. They are proactive about sustaining their industry and working together to amplify their voice. Unfortunate situations like that of our Gloucester fishermen have inspired a new generation to do better.

Check out the AG Catalyst conversations here: #AGCatalyst

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