By Dave White, with the Ohio Livestock Coalition
A recent, real-life Facebook conversation began with a post by a woman whose home butts up against a farm field near a medium-sized town in the Midwest. The early spring weather had farmers in the field sooner than usual and likewise, rural residents were happy to be able to open their windows to enjoy the fresh country air:
“Last night the person who farms the 10 to 20 acres behind us sprayed an ammonia substance that left us running to the windows to close them as quickly as possible. For hours my eyes were burning, my throat was sore, and every joint in my body ached. The kids were so miserable that we left for several hours.”
Friend #1 replied:
“I feel for you. You … can be the manpower behind protecting your kids. Get a petition going at minimum. Either for organic farming or to set specific spraying times so everyone can be prepared.”
Friend #2 chimed in:
“I don’t mean to be a grouch, but I’m guessing the field was there before your neighborhood of houses. The most likely solution you’ll find is to ask the farmer for a heads-up before he plans to spray. He’s not doing it to annoy his neighbors but to earn his living. I’m sorry you were taken off guard and suffered consequences. L”
The person who started the thread responded:
“You aren’t a grouch and you are absolutely correct .That’s the problem with chunking up land to put in residential areas–how to balance someone doing their job, and families enjoying open windows on an unseasonably warm spring day? I’m not annoyed with the farmer, just thinking out loud concerning alternatives.”
In this era of rapid-fire message exchange via social media, it’s easy to see how a seemingly minor occurrence could escalate and cause ill will among neighbors. But are you also able to see how quickly a potentially volatile conversation can be calmed when reasonable engagement occurs?
Facebook Friend #2 voiced understanding of the person’s situation and expressed sympathy for her plight. She also recommended a way to possibly avoid such a situation in the future.
There’s no doubt that pressure is building on farmers to perform to the public’s expectations. Incidents such as the one that played out on Facebook have the potential to diminish public confidence and make our operating environment more difficult.
Building trust with a public that has little or no understanding of how their food is produced requires increased engagement, transparency and professionalism. The public must be given assurance that farmers today share their values and expectations. Failure to engage can lead to misunderstanding and a potentially damaging public debate.
You never know when the opportunity to engage will present itself. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, a blog or at the local coffee shop, those of us in agriculture need to be prepared to respond. Our neighbors need to know we understand their concerns and have their best interests at heart.
Do you know of someone who exemplifies the notion of being a good neighbor? If so, please consider nominating them for the Neighbor of the Year Award sponsored by the Ohio Livestock Coalition and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. The winners – a non-farm rural resident and a livestock farmer — will be announced at the Coalition’s annual meeting and industry symposium scheduled for September 7. They will receive a plaque and checks for $250 payable to their favorite local charities. Please have your nominations to us by July 2, 2012.
For more information, contact the Coalition’s office at 614-246-8288, email@example.com or http://www.ohiolivestock.org/News/2012/112GoodNeighbor.html.