We all have opinions… as banal as what we like to eat or movies we enjoy seeing, to more deeply held beliefs that revolve around our values, religion and work. For me, I’m adamant that farmers think about themselves as entrepreneurs and business people, and not just growers of food; that farmers need to be financially sustainable to continue doing what they love.
My work focuses around teaching farmers accounting and financial management. Sexy, right? Getting farmers to focus on bookkeeping is about as appealing as a root canal: it’s a necessary evil, and we usually avoid it until it becomes dire. But to have a conversation about “sustainability” we can’t just talk about the environment and farming practices. We must also talk about ensuring that the stewards of our environment (including farmers) can support themselves financially so they can keep doing what they’re doing.
I’ve struggled with ways to get my message out. I know it should have wide ranging appeal, but can’t seem to get past my “choir”, the people who already agree with me on the importance of business management for farmers. How do I reframe my opinion to make it part of the larger conversation on sustainability?
San Francisco is not renowned for its summers, with its cold winds and dense fog. Nonetheless, on a summer weekend in July, I gathered with 20 women at the University of the Pacific to learn how to amplify our voices.
There was no shortage of opinions in the room. We were all interested in various aspects of food and social justice. But for a variety of reasons, we needed help clarifying our views, and getting a gentle nudge to share them with our larger community.
We learned to appreciate our individual expertise, and what makes us credible. We learned how to articulate our argument and defend it with evidence. And we learned how to counter criticism. And we built a support network to help carry us through after the two days had ended. I was just hoping to get an outline for how to write an op-ed piece, but I got so much more. I ended up with a draft of my article, a mentor to help me refine it and a wonderful support network.
The first part of an op-ed piece is the hook – a timely event that links to the point we’re trying to make. In the news the other day, I got my hook! Seventeen federal agencies published a draft report that stated we’re already feeling the effects of climate change. We need small farmers more than ever to help protect the environment (and perhaps even reserve some of the damage), and for that they need to be financially sustainable. And with that, I sent my piece off to local and national publications.
It may take a while to get my piece published. But it’s okay. I have the tools and resources to keep plugging away and get my message out to the masses.
I’m grateful to The Culinary Trust for supporting my participation in this program; to Teresa Puente and The Op-Ed Project for organizing such a great program; and to Polly and the team at the University of the Pacific for pulling it all together.