“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.”
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.”
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!