We have a new pastor at church and he was walking through the congregation prior to the service last Sunday morning and he stopped to say, “Hello.” He looked down at my six-year-old son and said, “Pleased to meet you, what is your name?”
Rather than sharing his name, my son said, “I went mutton bustin’ — I rode the ram in the barn today before church.”
“Oh really,” the pastor said.
“Yep, his name is Big Poppa. I wore my snowboarding helmet.”
The pastor stopped and looked up at me with a questioning glance. “Is this real? What he is talking about?”
“Yes it is,” I said. “He was helping his mother with chores this morning and she let him ride on the back of the Horned Dorset ram in the barn. He did wear his snowboarding helmet.”
Even after the countless conversations he had with churchgoers that day I am pretty sure that one will be remembered for a while. The young, new pastor admitted this was the first time he had ever discussed mutton bustin’ in church and he was certain the topic would work its way into the lunchtime conversation with his family later that day.
The incident reminded me of a session I had attended at the Ohio Farm Bureau Young Ag Professionals event the day prior about developing your “elevator speech” to make a worthwhile and memorable impression on someone in a short period of time. The process of developing this effective first impression can be very strategic and well planned, but it does not have to be elaborate to be effective.
Often, for those in agriculture, simple honesty is the best policy. If you want people to remember you, just tell them what you do. I have an extremely successful friend in Columbus who has gone far in the real estate world. He spends his days travelling around the country to urban projects or working long hours in his office downtown. He then goes home to his house in the city. He calls me every so often.
“Hey Matt, what are you up to?”
“Well, actually right now I am shoveling chicken manure out of the coop before I gather the eggs for the day.”
“Matt you are the only person I know who could ever even say anything like that.”
And you know what? He’s right. And he is like most people that we will meet (since most people are not farmers). In fact, there is a reasonable chance — depending on where you are — that you may be the only farmer the person sitting next to you will ever meet. Because of that, the simple fact that you are a farmer is likely fascinating to them, and it makes for a very good and straight forward “elevator speech.”
Bruce King — a former U.S. Marine, turned factory worker from town, turned hog farmer who was just named the Swine Manager of the Year by the Ohio Pork Council — knows this well. He understands the appeal of talking to farmers to find out information about what really happens on farms with our food first hand, because just a few years ago he wasn’t a farmer. His military and manufacturing background gave him a unique perspective as a farm manager to dramatically improve productivity on the farm. It also gives him a unique perspective in his community. Now, when he is not working on the farm, he is going about his small town life and eagerly sharing with others about what he does and why he loves it.
“I was at Home Depot the other day talking about open pen gestation,” King said. “I just want to educate people who only have watched a YouTube video on one side of the story. I have taken people from the community to go visit. Educating people is so important. We shower them in and let them in the barns to show them that the animals are well cared for.”
I am not sure King spent much time laboring over his “elevator speech” on how to effectively make an impression with the folks at Home Depot, but his passion for what he does just comes through. When people find out that he is a hog farmer who lives in town, there are inevitable questions that King is more than happy to answer. He doesn’t have a strategy to be a great spokesman for agriculture. He is just honest and passionate about what he does (and he is a former Marine so people listen to him).
The public is demanding to know more about what takes place in the production of their food, and not always in a nice way. In a world where PETA bashes the FFA, restaurant chains criticize the farmers who produce their food, and anyone can be a food/animal/crop/farm expert online, real, honest stories from people on farms are more important than ever. If you work on a farm, what you do — baling hay, carrying water, scooping manure, artificial insemination, feeding livestock, harvesting crops, and, yes, even Sunday morning mutton bustin’ — is very novel and memorable for others. Even your daily activities on the farm can leave quite an impression on those you meet.