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For many, this Bundt pan facilitates delicious desserts. For a three-year-old, it can be something very different.

Ash holes, butt pans and other obstacles of inter-generational communication

Our three-year-old son is at a stage where he talks prolifically, but still a little “Dutchy” according to his great-grandma. This leads to inevitable communication issues with adults.

This communication gap was the source of great concern for my wife and I recently as he tried to describe for us the hole in the carpet made by a spark from the fireplace this winter. In his mind, this “hole” made from the “ash” was noteworthy enough to enunciate repeatedly in a very unfortunate word arrangement that, when combined with his three-year old dialect, sounded quite troubling. Not knowing what he was trying to describe, my wife and I exchanged a few worried glances after our son repeated the very crass-sounding phrase several times before I stopped him. I asked, “Do you mean the hole made by the ash in the carpet?”

“That’s ‘zactly what I’m talkin’ bout daddy, an ash hole.”

The communication misinterpretation can go both ways though. My son was helping my wife make a Bundt cake using a like-named pan. He asked about the pan and responded: “A butt pan? Is that potty talk?”

These communication challenges are not limited to conversations between little kids and adults, though. As some of us at the office get a bit older, we are noticing that the interns we hire communicate a bit differently too. Here, I need to mention, that we have cream-of-the-crop interns who are extremely hard working and talented, though they do communicate in a vastly different way than I did in college (and really, I am not THAT old).

Jessica Shanahan, who worked with us through the winter and still does some writing, turns to Twitter for her news and information first thing in the morning and on bus rides in between classes. She never looks at newsprint.

Instead of writing a note or talking on the phone, college students text and use social media for instant communication. And they use social media other than Facebook. If their grandma uses it, they are not using it to communicate with their friends. If their grandma did use their preferred social media, she probably would not be able to understand what they were talking about anyway.

Another current (and very talented) intern working for us is Stacie Seger, who is a student at OSU.

“I think people my age are quick to text and grab information from the Internet, but are slow to call or really engage in conversations,” she said. “I think my generation is more trusting about the information we find on Internet, whereas people older than me seem to research into a topic a little more. We like things short and sweet; we won’t read something longer than 150 words.”

Stacie gets her news from Twitter and a CNN app on her phone that provide to-the-point information.

“We don’t want a lot of fluff. Just tell it like it is,” Seger said. “We run our lives off smart phones, so any source of media needs to work on a smartphone. I also think ag needs to do more videos. We love to watch short videos.”

New social media forums including Snapchat, Google+, LinkedIn and others keep us in the communication business guessing all of the time. What is the best way to communicate with farmers? What is the best way to communicate with consumers? How do we meet the needs of multiple generations with our media? What do you think? We have these debates in our office on a regular basis to try and best serve you (and everyone else we work with).

With all of these questions in mind, the group of Ohio Farm Bureau interns working on the Land and Living Display for the upcoming Ohio State Fair this year in the Ag and Hort Building is taking a new approach with portions of the display to reach fairgoers in different ways in hopes of more effectively reaching them with agricultural messages. Ian Adams, Kelly Fager, and Kelly Guthrie, the interns for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Land and Living Exhibit, plan on using traditional print and photographs, while also incorporating video, Facebook, and Twitter to appeal to younger generations. They will also be relying on good, old-fashioned person-to-person interaction from staff members who are well versed on agricultural issues. This interaction will be facilitated through demonstrations, displays, presentations and staff members just being on hand to answer agricultural questions for the older generations. An increase in hands-on activities is designed to appeal to the youngest fair visitors.

This approach of targeting different demographics in in different ways, with the same goal of educating them about agriculture, has merit well beyond the Ohio State Fair. In many ways, the communications errors of agriculture’s past continue to threaten its future. Understanding how to best bridge generational communication gaps will be one component of addressing some of these issues.

It will take some work, but with the proper strategy, tools and understanding, the communication challenges ahead for agriculture can be opportunities, rather than just a pain in the “butt pan.”

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  1. Well stated, Matt! We need to continue to reach out to consumers in places where they already are,…social media, in the grocery, etc. I have the privilege to talk to the Ohio Farm Bureau’s interns today about having great conversations and I am stoked! Our younger generation continues to teach this old dog new tricks, so I’m hoping I can help them have productive personal interactions with people that can make a difference.

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