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The “4 E’s” to take with you to a county commissioner meeting

I recently received an email from a BEEF reader who is preparing to offer testimony at an upcoming county commissioner meeting.

In this particular situation, the concerned producer and her farming/ranching neighbors are facing increased regulations in the county that would place limitations on building homes, grain buildings or outbuildings on their private property.

Additionally, the county wants to restrict existing livestock operations from growing their businesses to a larger scale. The county wants to place “nuisance” ordinances on these agricultural enterprises, and they want to restrict the number of animals allowed on any given parcel of land.

This county also wants farms to provide financial statements for open public records to determine if these are viable businesses, and they want to require retired farmers to obtain permits if and when the next generation decides to move back to the family farm and build a home on the land.

Worst of all, this county wants to impose criminal charges and penalties if any of these ordinances are not complied with.

Talk about some scary government overreach and a complete disregard for the people who provide the food, fiber and energy to make our lives comfortable and secure!

These burdensome restrictions are meant to drive producers out of this county. All of these ordinances are meant to end small rural businesses, raising the cost of food prices and ultimately leading to more imports of foods from other countries.

Is that really what we want as a society?

This isn’t an isolated incident, of course. Across the nation, farmers and ranchers are facing similar battles as activists infiltrate rural communities and use emotionally-charged rhetoric and fear mongering tactics to create mass hysteria and public hostility toward the producers who are part of the fabric of these small towns. 

And as agonizing and frustrating as these situations are, we must remain calm in the face of such direct threats to our livelihoods.

When I received this email, the reader said she wasn’t sure how to approach giving testimony that would be strong enough to convey a message, but wouldn’t get lost in the emotions. She feels she is facing public criticism and the potential ordinances could end her family’s way of life.

I suggested she use the  “4 Es” to build a solid message to present to the county commissioners and the community members attending these public forums.

The “4 Es” include:

1. Economics

Your family farm is a business in the community, the same as the main street florist shop, the locally owned gas station or grocery store, the little cafe on the corner and the tractor implement.

As a business, know your numbers. What do you pay in taxes each year to support the town, ensuring safe roads, funding schools, etc? What does it mean for other small business owners that your family’s farm is in the community? Are you a regular patron of these other family-owned enterprises?

2. Environment

There’s a common misconception that farmers and ranchers are destroying the planet. What can you say to negate this perception? What does your family do to sustainably take care of the natural resources on your land? Do you practice rotational grazing? Plant cover crops? Maintain buffer strips and wetlands? Apply manure (which can be seen as a negative because of the smell), but the pro is you’re promoting soil health with each manure application. In a nutshell, how are you promoting planetary health while providing food for the world?

3. Enrichment

How do you enrich the community by being part of it? Are you kids involved in 4-H, FFA, sports, band and theater? Are you active members of the local church? Do you volunteer in community service efforts? Is your family one that is known to be kind, level-headed and having strong moral character? If you are forced out of business, will your absence in the community be felt? Explain why.

4. Emotion

Even though this reader was worried about showing emotion, sharing your personal stories can be incredibly powerful. What did your grandfather or great grandfather overcome or sacrifice to plant roots in this community? What drives your family to continue in agriculture? What do you wish your friends and neighbors understood about what you do? What misconceptions are out there about the way you manage the land or livestock?

Emotions can quickly cloud our thoughts, so I encourage folks facing a situation like this to have your statements typed out to ensure you convey the exact message in these high-stakes meetings. Emotions can make you say things you didn’t mean, lash out or lose your cool. Being calm, collected, rational and factual is important, but being vulnerable is good, too. Show people what’s in your heart; your story matters!

Finally, a big mistake I see people making in advocating for agriculture is arguing that their livelihoods are at sake. Sadly, these folks with their actions have conveyed exactly how they think about your business. In other words, they don’t care, or they relish the fact that you will no longer be in business very soon, if they get their way.

So instead of zeroing in on that message, flip it around to the consumer. Why should they care if you are still there? What matters to them? What concerns do they have? Direct your messaging to appeal to their worries instead of your own.

It’s unfortunate that so many are facing uphill battles like this; however, if we are to be effective in saving our family farms and ranches, we must be strategic in how we approach these delicate conversations. Don’t try to appeal to folks on your values, but instead, try to connect by what you have in common or what their values are. Chances are you have more in common than you think. Making that initial connection is the challenging part, especially in the heat of some of these frenzied debates.

Have you faced a similar challenge? How did you approach it? And how did it turn out? Share with us in the comments.

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