Katie Olthoff
Katie Olthoff

In four years of blogging about agriculture, I’ve only had two negative responses to my writing. That is, until now. My biggest battle as an advocate for agriculture hasn’t been over antibiotic use on farms or animal welfare. My biggest battle has been over Carrie Underwood.

I recently saw a hilarious clip from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon where he and Rashida Jones sing about Thanksgiving to the catchy tunes of popular songs. Picture me, singing and dancing along until Carrie Underwood came on the screen.

Carrie Underwood, singing about turkey? Carrie Underwood, vegan and HSUS supporter, singing about cooking and eating my beloved turkey?

It was just too much for me to handle.

So, I went to my blog. I wrote a short article about Carrie’s association with HSUS and hit publish. A few days later, Pork Network ran the article online. Within hours, someone shared my article on a fan page for Carrie, and her diehard supporters came out to defend her.

Many of the comments were not nice, but they did teach me a few valuable lessons about advocating for agriculture.

At best, radicals won’t even read it.  At worst…

For every issue, there will be some people who have already made up their mind, and once they do, there’s no going back. The Carrie Underwood super-fans were appalled that I would even think of criticizing her in any way. After all, as many of them pointed out, “Carrie is an animal lover!”

Sometimes the choir needs to hear the sermon.

You can’t win them all, but sometimes, rational, polite conversation can make a difference.

Erin from Illinois wrote, “I have always lived on a farm. My brother is a cattle and grain farmer. However, that doesn't make me blind to what goes on in the hog and turkey confinement houses in our area… Carrie Underwood aside, farming needs to clean up their own act. Confinement houses for any animal is one of the cruelest practices of man.”

After other farmers politely explained why they raise hogs in confinement, “Erin,” changed her tune a bit, saying, “…I realize that not all confinement farmers are cruel to their animals and try to never force my beliefs on anyone. Sincere apology to those I offended.”

As farmers become more specialized, they know less and less about their neighbors’ operations.  Educating other farmers is an important part of agricultural advocacy, as well.

Building trust with consumers is vital.

It can be argued, however, that educating consumers is more important.

I’ve been sharing my life for more than four years on my blog. I’ve shown pictures of our home renovation, shared my struggles as a parent, and tried to be transparent about our farm. I’ve developed friendships with other bloggers who have something in common with me. And my readers trust me.

The comments on my website and Facebook page were very different than the Pork Network.com comments. None of my readers accused me of spewing hate. In fact, many of them were surprised by HSUS’s real mission and Carrie’s financial support of it.

My readers’ response was no surprise to me. Whenever I’ve written about something controversial in agriculture, my readers have been polite and supportive. For example, a vegetarian mom named Ellie, recently wrote this, “I know from reading your blog and living out with the farmers in the country that whether you're growing corn or turkeys, you're just doing the best you can do. It's not a conspiracy, like so many people like to paint it. I know if I did buy meat I'd like it to come from a farm like yours. You hear all of this sensational junk about the horrible things that go on in livestock farms, but I think of you and Bart and just can't see you doing that to your turkeys!”

As 2014 begins, I am evaluating my blog and my goals, as I do every year. And I’m taking these lessons to heart. Measuring success in agricultural advocacy isn’t about converting Carrie Underwood fans. It’s about the meaningful conversations we have with consumers (and other farmers, too.)