Tomorrow is National Agriculture Day, a special designation that has been around since 1973.  I remember when I first started working for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, I would see a press kit and maybe a fancy poster come through my desk (via snail mail!) – both highlighting why National Ag Day is important. (Remember, this was nearly 18 years ago, well before the explosion of websites and social media.) Did I get that excited? Nope, not really. It didn’t have that immediate impact on me.

But social media has changed all that. This year, I’m already seeing plenty of “Ag Proud” and “National Ag Week” updates on Facebook and Twitter and blog posts from farmers – plus I belong to a group called “I am Agriculture Proud” on Facebook where conversations are happening, questions are being asked, and people (farmers, ranchers and people like me who work for ag organizations/businesses) are planning how they will be celebrating and spreading the word about this important day. I think it’s pretty darn exciting!

Ironically, today – on this first official day of National Ag Week – I have been immersed in a very lengthy and passionate discussion on Facebook about our food system. The conversation came about after a Facebook friend of mine shared a picture of a featherless chicken along with some information that was completely untrue – how chickens are mistreated and suffer at the hands of farmers, and how they are pumped full of hormones (see my blog post on that persistent little myth here), along with several other mistruths. It was the pretty typical argument that BIG farmers = BAD, evil and (horrors!) factory farmers. Those who know me know that I don’t buy into this argument. Big farmers aren’t evil, they don’t abuse their animals, they aren’t in farming only to make money (although making a living is important, no doubt about that) and they aren’t brainwashed by corporations such as Monsanto, Hormel, Tyson or any others.

Of course I wanted to share my side of the story, and while I was pretty riled up, I tried to keep it positive and professional (mostly, it was, I think) and did my best to try to come to some common ground that perhaps we could relate to. I knew I probably wasn’t going to change any minds, but I also wanted to take this opportunity to share some good blog posts from my AgNerd friends that would help share information and opinions that would back up what I was writing. My AgNerd friends did not disappoint – they gave me many good links that I provided during my discussion, and while I can’t say if any of the links were actually clicked on, a farm girl can certainly hope.

As I look back at the discussion, I have to say this was really my most passionate display of “agvocacy” to date. I’ve watched a lot of discussions on Facebook and have commented a few times myself, but this was very focused on poultry (although it did branch out to larger issues/questions). This was me sharing my opinions with someone who so clearly wasn’t going to see my way. The person even went so far as to allude that I felt pressure to respond on behalf of so-called “bad, evil, factory farmers” because it’s my job – and only my job.

Let me just say, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Is it my job – as communications director for four poultry-related trade associations – to respond to inquiries, questions and mistruths about the poultry industry? Yes, of course. But do I do it solely because it’s my job? No way. I have worked for poultry farmers (of many sizes – big, small and in-between) for nearly 18 years. I have been in poultry barns and toured poultry processing plants. I have met poultry farmers and their families from all over the world. And if I thought, for one minute, that what they were doing was wrong or inhumane or unethical, I can tell you that I wouldn’t be working for them. But because I believe in how hard they work to make sure their birds are raised properly and with care, and because I know they do this because it’s the right thing to do, I feel fortunate to have a career that combines my passion for communications and agriculture.

So on National Ag Day (and every day of the year), I am “Ag Proud” to work for poultry farmers. I am “Ag Proud” to be a born-and-raised farm girl. And I am “Ag Proud” to see so many people on social media “agvocating” for agriculture and farmers and instigating conversations about where our food comes from – I think that’s a good thing. Happy National Ag Day to you!

Do you have questions about your food and where it comes from? Join the National Agriculture Day  #FoodChat party on Tuesday, March 19, where farmers and ranchers from across the U.S. will be answering your questions on Twitter and Facebook. I hope you can join in the conversation! (Details here)

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