Tell your farm story or someone else will

by Steve Wagner

Creative Plagiarism was the title of a book that came out in 1990, authored by Wayne Ray. You can find the text of this work online. In it, Ray notes that “Most of what we have read has been written or thought of long before we were born. Writers have borrowed ideas from one another for as long as ink has passed over paper (or velum). While true plagiarism is wrong (claiming entire pieces of another’s work as your own), borrowing an idea or phrase that you find interesting or important can be as good as a compliment to a writer (whether they in turn, borrowed it or not). This can be categorized to some as Writer’s License or as it is called here, Creative Plagiarism.” Nearly 30 years later, as part of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s annual meeting, Creative Plagiarism was a breakout topic for PFB members and members of the news media. The topic at PFB centered on farms and farming, thereby leading to the above title of this story, though it remained Creative Plagiarism in the program. Jodi Gauker, a Berks County farmer and one of the seminar’s speakers actually deserves credit for the amended title.

“At Gauker Farms, [in Berks County PA] I don’t want anyone to tell my farm story other than me,” she said, “because unless they lived it and walked in my shoes, and had the opportunity to make the day-to-day business decisions I have to make within my budget, I can tell my story best.”

Gauker feels she is best qualified because “anytime you’re talking to someone on Facebook about agriculture, those are the questions I get. ‘How do you know? What are your qualifications?’”

Like most of the rest of us, Gauker shops at the grocery store. Unlike a lot of us, she buys very few things there because she’s usually at the farmer’s market. “I’m a consumer! I care about what I’m feeding my family. I’m a wife. Some days that’s easier than other days. Same with being a mom. Most of the buying decisions are still being made by the female of the family. I’m a farmer. I’m a food marketer.”

Gauker stressed that all farmers are in agriculture and need to stop fighting each other because it creates further problems for the industry. She maintains that it doesn’t matter if the farm is conventional or organic. “We’re all trying to save the world, right?”

“Reporters call me,” said Marty Yahner, a farmer from Cambria County PA. “Over the years, I’ve kept some of the newspaper clippings. They’ll say, ‘We hear that the farmers are having a hard time with the drought and all. We want to do a story about how it’s affecting farmers.’”

With that, he produces a clipping that dates back to 1994. The headline states Soon, there will be green fields. “The article said the weather hasn’t cooperated but at last farmers can begin their planting. It’s just an opportunity to tell your story about how the weather affects our business.” People often don’t understand, he said. They take it for granted. Yahner cited another 1994 story. Higher Education — college degree indispensable for farmers was the headline he read beneath a photo of Yahner, his brother, and his father in their feedlot. “The story centered around me going to Penn State and getting a degree in ag business. That was news!” At the time, a couple of older farmers said you don’t need college to farm.

Yahner counsels that “when you have a reporter call you, TV or newspaper or any medium, I know it’s tempting to say I’m too busy.’ If they want to come out to the farm, sometimes I’d have to tell them ‘no, that’s not going to work today.’ Reporters have deadlines and they want to come out today. But you might do an interview over the phone. They are often willing to do that. So, my advice to you is to get out of your comfort zone, try not to say no, turn them to somebody else, another farmer that may be in your county, and give them his name and phone number.”

When you get a reporter who is crafting a story, occasionally they will want to do multiple stories featuring a single interview. Yahner held up another clipping, this one from 1996, trumpeting the headline Expenses put farmers at risk. Survival depends on the market. Elsewhere on the same page, however, was this headline: ‘County’s crops rank near the top of the state.’ The reporter talked about the local Somerset-Cambria County farms and how they ranked in commodities. In yet another blurb on that same page was a sidebar which headlined No interest in toiling at tilling, about how fewer young people are getting into ag.

From there, Yahner showed a headline that trumpeted Farmers sow seeds of concerns to legislators which ushered us into the Legislative Farm Tour. Most county farm bureaus call it the same thing, an event where elected officials are invited to tour farms along with the media. “Sometimes the media wants to know which elected officials are coming? I try really hard to get the Congressman,” or Senator. Did anyone mention Governor? “Frankly,” said Yahner, “the media will come, but they would like to talk to elected officials but not so much their staff.”

Actually, such efforts work out favorably well, farmers and legislators having stories to tell, and reporters genuinely looking for stories to report. If you know you’re going to attend or otherwise be a part of such an event in the future, take pictures, and see if your local paper has any interest in using them. Give them a press release, and take the trouble to identify those in the photo (from left to right, of course). “If you make the media’s work easier for them, they’ll be responsive the next time you need something.”

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