Archive for Michele Payn-Knoper

“Farmed and Dangerous” – The Dairy Farmer’s Never Ending Battle with Public Perception

Chipotle Mexican Grill is not new to pushing the edge with their advertising.  This time they have plans to launch “Farmed and Dangerous,” a Chipotle original comedy series that satirically explores the world of industrial agriculture in America. (Read more: Chipotle to Launch “Farmed and Dangerous”)  When I saw this, ad it brought to light again the constant battle farmers and especially dairy farmers face when dealing with public perception.

There is no question that consumers want their food to be fresh, cheap and 100% natural.  With the emphasis being that, they want it cheap.  All consumers would like to believe that the milk they drink comes from cows that roam lush green pastures and frolic with their friends all day long.  The challenge of course is that it just doesn’t happen that way.  In order to produce the volumes of milk that is needed at the lowest cost, the need for larger “agribusinesses” or the negatively perceived “factory” farms is not a choice but a necessity. The thing is any well run dairy operation knows the first requirement for maximum efficiency and production comes down to how well you treat your cows and how comfortable they are.  Cow comfort is one of the biggest indicators of profitability on any dairy.  If the cows are well fed and comfortable, the dairy is running at peak efficiency, even “factory farms.”

That is why this new “Farmed and Dangerous” video from Chipotle offends me as much as it does.  Over the years, I have had the opportunity to walk among the cows on many large farms.  The consistent management goal found on all of them is maximizing cow comfort.  I recently watched an informative video by National Geographic – Megafactories about a 135,000 head dairy in Saudi Arabia owned by Almarai.

The problem is that messages like the one from National Geographic get lost.  Instead consumers see repeated messages like the one by Chipotle and assume that they are seeing the way things really are.  Since starting the Bullvine, we have tried to do our part to provide consumers with an accurate and positive perception of dairy farming…  (Read more:  Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country, Michele Payn-Knoper – Standing Up and Speaking Out for Agriculture!! and TOM HOOGENDOORN- Family man, Farmer & Our Face to the Consumer!).  Unfortunately, the challenge is that the message is simply not making it through to the general consumer often enough or clearly enough.  Yes large agribusinesses do try to put a positive spin on food production and I get it that it’s not always as sweet and rosie as the image they would have you believe.  Having said that, they certainly don’t need companies like Chipotle undermining these efforts.

I have been fortunate over the years to be exposed to many different cultures and backgrounds.  This has led to a very diverse group of friends on my Facebook feed.  Since I post all the Bullvine featured articles on my Facebook wall, I often get interesting feedback from those who do not come from a dairy background.  While most often questions about arise from them wanting to understand what this whole “Genomics” thing is about, the interaction gets me thinking about the effect our Facebook feeds have on the general consumer’s understanding of agriculture and milk production.

With this in mind, I started looking through my list of dairy friends’ Facebook posts.  For the most part, it was just the same as any other groups, except there are a lot of pictures of cows.  With #felfie’s and other pictures adding a nice touch.  Then I started to see some things that most consumers would just not understand.  One such piece of content was a trend that is going viral, #necknominations.  Necknominations is a drinking game where participants film themselves “necking” liquor, then nominate a friend to do so as well.  This was not the first time I had seen these.  I have actually seen many.  After one such time, a fellow dairy industry member wondered what effect this would have on the general consumer’s perception of dairy farmers.  As I think about this, I find that, while it’s not a “positive” thing for dairy farmers, it certainly is not an isolated event for them either.  It has become viral worldwide.  Unfortunately it even lead to the death of a young man.  This really has me thinking about the power of Facebook on consumer perception.

What I have come to realize is that Facebook does have great power and it can be in a very positive way.  I have seen items like the poem (Just a cow) that highlights just how much dairy farmer’s love for their cows can go viral along with the stories that share the day-to-day challenges that all dairy farmers face in producing clean, wholesome milk.

One video that I think does a great job of  showing  exactly what it means to be a dairy farmer, is the recent video the Canadian Dairy Xpo produced called “So God Made a Dairy Farmer”.  Working off the very viral Super Bowl commercial by Dodge Ram, this video is narrated by the unique voice and great dairy advocate and legendary auctioneer, David Carson.

It highlights the daily challenges dairy farmers face and it is messages like this one that I wish more consumers would see and relate to.  Please like and share this in your Facebook feed, so that more consumers can understand exactly what it means to be a dairy farmer.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that as the world’s population grows, there is going to be greater and greater demand for dairy products.  With that comes the pressure on prices, which will lead to larger and larger dairy farms.  While I understand we all don’t have the time to take up consumer education like Dairy Carrie or Michele Payn-Knoper, there are effective  things that each of us can l do.  On your Facebook feed, be sure to post as many positive images of dairy farming as you can.  Whether  that is a new born calf (yes Jerry Jorgenson, you do this well!) and be sure to let consumers know just how much you love what you are doing and the pride you have in taking great care of your dairy cattle.  Real farmers actively sharing and communicating is definitely the most honest and effective way to give consumers a positive perception.  While it may not seem like much, every little bit helps!?”


To learn how to get your farm on Facebook download this free guide.



Michele Payn-Knoper – Standing Up and Speaking Out for Agriculture!!

512[1]“When you choose to stand up for a good cause you have to believe that you can make a difference.”  Too many of us become discouraged with the negative picture of agriculture that is portrayed in the media. Even more disillusioning is the misinformation shared by friends and non-agricultural neighbors.  Thus it is refreshing and reinvigorating to meet agvocate, Michele Payn-Knoper who has the courage and commitment to read, write and speak up for agriculture.

Passion, Energy and Connections With Holsteins

Born and raised on a dairy farm in southern Michigan, Michele explains that her passion for agriculture started early. “I bought my first registered Holstein when I was nine, invested in a $7000 heifer when I was 12, and the rest is history. This agriculture agvocate, entrepreneur and farm and food connector started has shown cattle, developed Paynacres Holsteins, and judged all through 4-H and Michigan State. These dairy experiences are where Michele started seeing what activists said about agriculturists. With 12 years as a sought-after speaker and five years as “Gate to Plate”  blogger and “No More Food Fights” author, Michele still manages to keep her Holstein roots close by. “Descendants of Mobilecrest SWD Perfect-ET GMD are roaming my front yard today.”

How Michele Got the BLOG Rolling

Michele started the Gate to Plate blog to help connect farm gate to the food plate and give a voice to people who feed the world. She points to others who are active in agvocating as a source of inspiration and, in particular, The AgChat Foundation.  Initially the blog was added resource for use by Michele`s speaking audiences. Today it has evolved into materials that challenge people around the plate to connect with each other. She has been joined by many others. “Over 50 people have contributed to my blog, many of which ended up as contributors to my book No More Food Fights! I’m constantly humbled and inspired by the passion others  bring to moving the food and farm conversation closer together.”  This covers a variety of topics. “Thought leadership for the discussion around food and farm is the umbrella which guides the blog. This covers anything related to advocacy, a personal look at agriculture (such as the Lessons Learned on a Show Halter), information for dietitians, challenges for farmers, how to have the conversation, or response to misinformation that makes me mad!”

Agvocacy. Write On! Hang on! Hold On!

It isn’t surprising to hear that Michele lists “Finding enough time in the day!” as her biggest challenge. She reports that it’s tough to not drown in the information overload or get bogged down in the incredibly contentious discussions around farming. Some are very close to her heart. “My family losing our farm was unquestionably the greatest dairy challenge I’ve faced – and there are lessons in that experience I try to share with every audience I touch. And it makes me so thankful for my friends next door that house my cows and help me with our heifers.”

859223_10151728798897786_1264329335_o[1]Michele’s Message: STAND Up!  Reach Out!

If the Ag community is going to stem the tide of negative perceptions we have to take a stand urges Michele. “Ultimately, it’s about protecting your right to farm as you best see fit. Only 1.5% of the U.S. population is on a farm, so if we’re not talking about what we do – we need to understand that the conversation is happening without a firsthand farm perspective. Is it always easy? NO! One of the last pieces I added to No More Food Fights! (MPK’s new book) was a story about a downed cow. It wasn’t pretty, nor was it easy to write. However, sharing our real experiences on the farm provide people off the farm a different reference point – and makes us trustworthy. How can we expect people who are 3-4 generations removed from the farm understand robots, embryo transfer or calf care if we never share what’s happening in our barns? If we can change the reference point by offering a glimpse of what farmers really do – in advance of the next HSUS claim, we establish trust rather than operating in defense mode.”

The Agvocacy Two Step: Speak Out!  Speak UP!

When faced with a challenge that seems to put us on the defensive from the outset, Michele has an absolutely simple starting point. “Talk.” For this dynamo who has been known to get her audiences on their feet and boxing to represent the fight agriculture is in she says talking is the starting point. “It really is that simple. We have a tendency to be modest, stubborn and independent – and extraordinarily busy milking cows, putting up hay and taking care of business. However, telling your story is a business practice today! It’s all about the conversation – whether it’s having a conversation in the church parking lot, putting a photo with a quick explanation on Facebook, tweeting out some dairy goodness, talking with an elementary school classroom or visiting with an elected official.  Once you take the initial step to connect with people off the farm, spend some time listening (bite your tongue) and learn what they think about milk, animal care, and farmers. Try to connect with what’s important to them – not just shove science, facts and research in their faces – rather, relate to them as a human first.”

Michele Payn-Knoper2

Sometimes you Shake it Up! Sometimes you Shake it OFF!

It is human nature to hear the negative even when there are obviously great successes.  Despite tremendous response from agriculture, audiences and readers, there are occasions when Michele is subject to negative voices including claims that she is a paid corporate hack.  She stands proudly on her record. “Anyone who has heard me speak over the last 12 years knows how shy I am about stating my opinions, especially as it relates to agricultural advocacy (heavy sarcasm). I consider it a blessing to able to serve a cause that is much bigger than me and have learned to shake the rest off.” Unquestionably, the posts about animal rights and those that are deeply personal seem to be the most popular. However, Michele sends a special message to Bullvine readers. “I will caution your readers about evaluating influence based upon numbers only. If only five people read a post and all of them took action, I consider that to be more successful than a post that was shared 500 times. It’s not only the reach – it’s the touch of people’s heads and hearts – which in turn, incites action.” Well said.

Follow your Dream … Model your Mentors .

Michele Payn-Knoper finds inspiration for her creativity in many places and envisions conversations that could stoke the fires of her enthusiasm. “I would talk to MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo because he’s brilliant in his ability to extract leadership from people and, in turn, motivates them to work together to be the best (yes I’m a proud Spartan!). I also wouldn’t mind learning innovation from Steve Jobs or talking global agriculture with Bill Gates – or I’d like to learn to paint with water colors. Too many choices! I see life as an opportunity every day if we choose to watch, listen and learn. “

The Bullvine Bottom Line “Walk the Talk”

When it comes to daily goal setting, once again Agvocate Michele keeps focus on her personal muses. “My daughter inspires me every day to build a better future.” And then she looks to cows. “Because they keep us sane and make ice cream!” Let’s learn from Michele Payn-Knoper.  Start talking agriculture. Start talking today!

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