Truth Matters to Consumers

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Katie Sawyer truth to consumers
Cathy Isom explains how telling consumers the truth about farm practices opens the door to understanding.

Truth Matters to Consumers

From Kansas Agland

When Whole Truth is ‘Herd,’ Acceptance Follows

by Katie Sawyer Kansas Agland

Growing up, my parents always reminded me that not telling the entire truth was akin to lying. Telling the truth required the whole truth – and nothing but the truth.

Just listen to politicians, and you’ll find it’s often easier to modify reality or gloss over the messy parts and unsavory details than to spell out the details and admit to the dusty, dirty truth. They live by the motto: Tell people what they want to hear and everyone wins. The details only drag down the message.

When I speak with consumers – especially those who don’t agree with our farming practices and products – it often seems easier to just give them the high points and leave the details to someone else. When I start talking about antibiotics and why we sometimes feed our cattle a low dose of antibiotics to prevent blood infections spread by flies, the questions often become increasingly more accusatory, and pessimism becomes apparent. Just saying we use antibiotics on an as-needed basis is much easier, cleaner and accepted by consumers. It’s true for most of our animals, but it’s not the complete truth, and it doesn’t accurately portray what it takes to keep our entire herd healthy and safe.

Katie and Derek Sawyer truth to consumersWe recently welcomed a group of mommy and food bloggers to our farm and cattle facilities as part of a three-day Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean Association tour of Kansas agriculture. The ladies came with cameras, phones and plenty of questions.

Many, I believe, were prepared to hear us deny and refute all of the allegations made about harmful farming and livestock practices. What they found, however, was a fourth-generation farmer admitting to using chemicals on his crops, antibiotics in his animals and technology on his farm. But with those admissions came the facts, research and actual impacts of our actions.

It was during a discussion about hormones in our cattle that I realized an important and often overlooked part of advocacy is standing up for our farming and ranching practices. Providing the true impacts on consumers, and yes, digging into those nitty-gritty details is essential to giving them the complete truth.

Standing in our cattle facilities with newly weaned calves bawling behind us, my husband answered a question by admitting that he used hormone implants in our cattle. The looks on the women’s faces when he admitted to something they previously thought wrong and harmful was eye-opening. They were expecting a simple half-truth, but instead they were met with a complete and honest answer.

But the “yes” wasn’t the end of his response. My husband took the additional and very important step of showing them an implant and providing the numbers behind hormone levels in beef, when compared to leafy greens and other commonly consumed foods – data these women had never been exposed to. It was there, with all of the facts on the table and the truth exposed, that I believe the women truly found us to be not only honest and trustworthy but also experts on how our cattle practices affect them as consumers. We provided them the truth, the facts and logic behind our actions and shared the positive impact our decisions have on our animals. It was my husband’s openness and honesty that helped them accept what they previously found wrong and armed them with the courage to share that truth with others.

The farm tour was intended to help the bloggers learn more about agriculture and the people behind the production of their food and fuel. What I didn’t expect, however, was to walk away as informed and educated as the bloggers. I now realize that despite society’s tendency to be satisfied with quick facts and surface-level knowledge, people really do desire to know the truth, the whole truth and all of its implications.

The blog posts the women have shared following the tour provide proof that given the truth, details and digestible facts, absorbing a new or different truth isn’t difficult. As an agriculture advocate, I must remember that as much as I want to gloss over the messy or sidestep the less-accepted, the whole truth – and nothing but the truth – is the most powerful thing we can provide to consumers and our adversaries.

Katie and her husband, Derek Sawyer, farm and raise cattle on Derek’s fourth-generation family farm outside McPherson. They are parents to Evan, 2, and have a second child due in January. Katie works full time off the farm and advocates for the agriculture industry as a member of CommonGround Kansas and Kansas Farm Bureau. You can follow her online at @SawyerFarm and through her blog,