By Drew Slattery

Change Is Human

October 11, 2021

We must prioritize the humanity of farmers in our change programming. 

Before they put their dirty boots on in the morning, farmers and ranchers are humans first. If we want to empower our nation’s agricultural system to be more regenerative, sustainable, equitable and inclusive — then we are talking about empowering them to do so. We are talking about changing humans. 

We are talking about shifting perceptions and changing social norms — about educating and influencing a generational shift in the way millions of farmers — millions of humans — think, feel and behave.
However, humans are a complicated bunch.

As Unique As A Fingerprint

Farming is a business, it’s an identity, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a hobby, it’s a multi-generational family legacy and so much more. And to every farmer, it is something almost entirely unique. Every farm operation and every person making and implementing every decision on it is as unique as each person’s fingerprints. Sure they may share some combination of demographic and cultural measures with others, but each of them has an entirely unique mix of beliefs, attitudes, values, and needs. These unique human dimensions shape (uniquely) every aspect of their lives.

This is what we are up against when we talk about driving change in agriculture. It is one of the most challenging complexities we have to work through. As changemakers, we can’t approach things from any one angle; there is no silver bullet and no easy button. Farmers are not a monolith. The complexity and diversity of our nation’s agronomy and biology is matched by the complexity and diversity of the human dimensions of its farmers. 

Lean Into The Humanity

We can get better at driving change, by focusing on the humans — first.
If we want to catalyze a re-imagined American agriculture, then we are talking about ushering in a new era for millions of people. We are talking about creating a shift in culture, in understanding, in value, in social norms, in business practices, in behavior and even daily existence. Let that sink in for a minute. When we talk about change in agriculture we are talking about changing what daily existence means for millions of people.

Farmers have to own this change. They have to lead and drive this change, and ultimately value and believe in it — outright — or it will only ever be temporary and brittle at best.  We – as facilitators and change makers – shouldn’t expect to empower millions of people to successfully and meaningfully re-imagine their existence, without considering the people we are trying to influence first and foremost. 

Agricultural Change is Human Change

We believe that the agricultural change process is, above all things, human change; it is driven entirely by individuals’ interaction with, and perceptions of, the systems around them. No matter how similar farmers may appear on paper or statistically, they are all unique. That means they are all unique in their needs, their challenges and their opportunities. As changemakers, we need to approach them uniquely. Understanding the human dimensions related to the farmer’s regenerative and sustainability journey — and incorporating that into intervention and program design – is a force-multiplier. Some farmers understand regenerative production, but they don’t value it. That’s OK – serve them interventions designed to help them value it. The value of regenerative production to one farmer may be in the form of a carbon market payment check — while the value to another may be the family legacy reputation benefit it provides. That is OK. It doesn’t matter. Not everyone has to value regenerative ag in the same way. And we shouldn’t expect them to. But they do have to value it in a way that works for them. And we need to help them get there.

Understanding the human dimensions of the farmers we are seeking to empower allows us to hand-craft interventions to meet them where they are on their journey. It allows us to reach them in the right time, the right place, with the right resources and in a way that will resonate with them, as a people first and foremost, not just as census data or statistical demographic figures.

Only by empowering people to change are we going to be able to build a more resilient and sustainable system.

Image courtesy of NRCS Flickr.

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