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An open letter to Everyone

I’m not sure who may read this and knowing some of you may not know me, I want to start this off by introducing myself. I am a fifth generation grain and beef farmer from Ohio. My daily responsibilities on our family’s farm vary immensely from day to day, but in the end, each day

Agvocate or Agtivist?

Three years ago during a brainstorming session between Ray Prock, Darin Grimm and I we came up with a word to describe agricultural advocates that has grown to become a common word used within the agricultural community.  The terms “agvocacy” and “agvocate” combined with other efforts in the agricultural community became the basis why the three

Monocultures – More than Meets The Ear

I recently listened to a local farmer describe his extensive crop rotations, soil fertility and how he shunned chemicals. Far superior to the unhealthy “monoculture” of conventional corn and soybeans planted by his neighbor, he said. And he made it all too clear – he didn’t care what his neighbor thought anyway. It struck me:

One Hundred Meals, One Hundred Conversations, One Community?

Introducing “One Hundred Meals – Building Community At America’s Table” written by Ellen and Grant   Recently, Grant and I had an opportunity to sit down with some “industrial farming” folks over breakfast, on the invitation of the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. The group, which appears to have deep ties to Big Ag, was formed to

Any Benefits from a Change in Perspective?

farmer bright lights big city

I saw a photo on a farmer friend’s Facebook page (it’s Iowa hog farmer Larry Sailer for those of you who wonder). The photo (by Agriculture Impressions) was of a beautiful farm, with corn growing in the foreground and a perfect red barn in the background. Familiar text crossing the sky quoted Shawn S. Stevenson

California’s GMO Labeling Initiative – A Customer’s Perspective

At an Earth Day festival in the San Francisco Bay Area this year, a GMO labeling activist grabbed my arm and told me that labeling GMOs was ‘a matter of life and death.’  A few months and a lot of signatures later, the initiative met the requirements to be voted on this November. As a Californian and an environmentally concerned citizen, I’ve

Lose the Argument, Win The Cause.

Cows Fighting

Cow Fight via Extra Zebra on Flickr Creative Commons

For a long time, I’ve been struggling with the ability to tell others why they shouldn’t argue with others especially on the internet. I’m not saying to turn the other cheek and run away – what I was trying to say is that it’s not worth the time and energy to argue with someone. It’s better to agree with them and then redirect to what you want them to do. But people I spoke with just didn’t get it. Obviously, these people aren’t dumb – I was just doing a horrible job of explaining what I meant.

Then I came across these posts from John Carlton. I’ve been following John since I had heard an interview with him on (I believe) the Copyblogger podcast. John did a great interview of how he came into the copy writing world and he’s produced some amazing results for his clients so when it comes to knowing what he’s talking about, I trust him.

Anyway, I digest. Here’s his steps for Winning an argument – you can find them all here on his blog or the comments on his facebook. I’m not going to copy his stuff word for word – you should go read it. But I am going to give it my spin for the world of dairy farming.

How to win an argument

Step 1: Never argue back, when your goal is persuasion.

This is probably the toughest thing to do. We are definitely hardwired to defend our positions and strike out when we feel our views are threatened.

But the important thing here (especially online) is that this is a losing proposition. No one will win here – what will happen is that everyone will see the shouting match going on back and forth until it escalates into name calling. I’m sure you’ve seen this hundreds of times on facebook, twitter, youtube, etc… It’s even worse when people’s identities are anonymous.

I love what John says here about how their minds will change –

They WILL change their minds, but not because you demolished their belief system with crap like logic and debate moves. They will change because of an internal epiphany that is akin to death/rebirth.

So the main lesson is here “don’t fight back” unless you just want the adrenaline rush and don’t care if this person will hate both you and your cause.

Step 2: Define what “win” means to you.

This is a big boy/girl step and it’s not quite as hard as the first step. What are you trying to accomplish and why in the world did you engage this person in the first place. You need to answer this. If there is really no larger goal in mind, then step away. You aren’t going to convince them of anything anyway.

In social media/digital world, there are considerations here. You are probably arguing in front of an audience. Both theirs and yours. So you really need to think about that. I would also say that don’t consider email a private place. I’ve seen many people say things in email that got transferred (copy paste) directly into the lime light. So always be careful in digital.

If I engage someone with an opposing viewpoint, I want to persuade them into doing something that is a “win” for me (even if it looks like I got my butt kicked in the argument). Let me give you an example. At a previous job, I was constantly bickering with a dept over their approvals of tools I needed for my team. After a few backroom arguments (which I believed I won but in reality didn’t get us any closer to getting the tools), I decided to change my tactics. My goal was getting the tools and not winning the arguments. So my new tactic was to (which is the next step) to agree with them and redirect to what I wanted.

I’ll explain what happened after the next step from John.

Step 3: Use “yes, and” to reframe for the “win”.

This is what John says about the last step in winning an argument. He’s written a lot more here so go read the rest of it but here’s what he says.

You disarm anger, reframe the context (so you’re not wallowing in the stuck-in-one-place psychological wastelands that stubborn people like to fight in), and “come in through a side door” (as old school salesmen like to say).

You don’t engage head-on, you ignore irrationality, and because you’re so clear on your goal, you take your ego out of it. Use the old improv theater tactic of never being negative yourself — say ‘Yes… AND…’ while moving things toward the discussion you actually want to have.

This is so, so important. You win because you reframed the argument and you get what you want. Remember if there is nothing I really want from the person then don’t argue. But this person has something you want (influence, budget, tools, etc…) then you need to persuade and you persuade by not arguing.

So here’s what happened in the example. Instead of arguing, I started agree with the other dept. “Yes, I agree these tools are a bit out of range for our normal budget and yes, the security is questionable. Yes, I agree with your points. I understand you have a class on the dangers of these tools. How about my guys all attend these classes, become experts and advocates about how you feel about these tools and will be someone you can rely on to back you up if other people want these types of tools. But they really need to have access to these tools so they can become the experts on which ones work and which ones don’t. The dept head thought about it and gave us the access we needed.” Now this is just a paraphrasing of everything that went down but it worked.

Now, do I do this all the time? Nope. Do I still argue? Yep.

Because I’m human and I don’t always control my emotions as well as I should. But I do want you to understand that arguing passionately very rarely convinces anyone but the people that already agree with you that you are doing the right thing. You can see the polarization in many things like politics, religion, music, etc…

But if you really want to persuade someone than I suggest you use John’s steps above. And, of course, if you want to argue against me, feel free. I’m up for it. “Yes, I agree with you…AND”

What do you think about winning an argument?

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Does The Farmer Brand Need A New Logo?

Bill Bakan the "Fun Tsar" and Pumpkin Launcher

Greetings from Bill Bakan, Farmer Bill the “Fun TSAR” at Maize Valley Farm Market and Winery.  I was encouraged to comment on a post on Just Farmers by a friend of mine.  Seth Teter with the Ohio Farm Bureau had just put up a blog post on February 9th entitled “Farmers are People too”.  He made some excellent points and also asked for input.  I did so and a few of the folks who follow and read the blog suggested I offer it as a blog post itself.  Recently the “pot was stirred” a bit you might say on with the Dodge Ram commercial.  The wake was almost as impressive as the splash itself.  I’ll put a few words about me at the bottom if you are still interested in learning a little more about me but I’m really “Just a Farmer”!  The following is my post in the comment section: http://www.justfarmers.biz/blog/2013/02/07/farmers-are-people-too/

At one time the “farmer” had but one “image” replicated over and over in children’s story books as the kindly gentleman in bibs and straw hat chewing on a reed of grass. It was a “Brand” almost a “logo” before Nike, Under Armor, or McD’s had meaning. It represented those images flashed upon the national stage before us in a 2 minute montage’ this past Sunday, during the “Big Game”.
Farming was simple when the brand was cast, it is not so much today. Back in the Day the virtues of a farmer extended not much farther than a person whom ensured the absence of hunger and a pillar within the community their families helped to build. No bumper stickers needed you saw them every day and the worlds were intertwined.

Today I’m a “farmer” on a family farm that walks in many worlds from “commercial” to “organic” Maybe I am too “Old School” anymore but a “Lasting Image” can no more be created or destroyed by “campaigns” unless there are supporting actions and facts to back it up.

Remember money talks and B.S. walks (yea I still say stuff like that) and despite all the perceived problems some of us think we have in agriculture about our image a multi-national company just spent millions of dollars to try and extend their brand to encompass our image. No matter your opinion or perception of the Dodge ad the fact it happened at all along with the “Year of the Farmer” says a great deal. That was money talking.

The permanent thing I endeavor to is guided by where I see my competitive advantage related to agriculture align with emerging opportunities I perceive and then I try to adapt to evolving environment all the while staying true to my core principles. What does that mean? I DO NOT purposely “Agvocate” (I hate that word) rather I “Project Image by Doing” (sound familiar?). I engage with what I do not understand and attempt to learn. I ask “foodies” questions like “Why is Monsanto so bad?” I listen to their responses and attempt to learn based upon my experiences and agricultural knowledge if they have a point and if so or not how can we continue to have a mutually positive interaction.

We are not “chosen” we just have greater opportunities to interact along a timeline than most ways of life that is associated with more romantic images or our countries heritage. Hence we get the call more often and may find people interested in learning about agriculture and thereby its “people”. Along that path may we be wise enough to relive their worries, because that’s what’s it all about!

Hakuna Matata


Bill; 1985 Ag Education Grad from The Ohio State University currently owns and helps operate Maize Valley Farm Market in Hartville, Ohio with his Wife of 27+yrs Michelle, Brother in Law Todd and Mother and Father in Law Kay and Donna Vaughan.  Former custom applicator and certified crop consultant, grain inventory manager for 475,000 bu. farm storage facility, on the families 3,000 ac grain/dairy farm. Former Hazardous tanker  CDL truck driver etc, (You know the drill).  Farm currently consists of approx. 700 acres with 40-50 different crops with direct farm market, winery and agri-tourism destination and farmers’ market off site sales also.  But basically I shoot pumpkins out of a cannon for a living… how cool is that??? Shhhhhh don’t tell anybody I may have get a “real job” someday!  

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Farmers are people, too

Seth Teter


It seems it’s becoming more fashionable to eschew the slew of slogans that heap praise onto farmers. The thinking goes something like this: slapping a “Thank a Farmer” sticker on your truck bumper condescends to nonfarmers, does little to improve agriculture’s image, and it’s kinda like a lead singer that wears his own band’s t-shirt – it’s just not rock n’ roll.

But my beef with this and similar image campaigns is that they treat “the American farmer” as something, not someones.  And farmers are much more interesting as individuals than as an institution. Like 2 million times more.

So, would the real farmers please stand up?  All you ordinary people scattered among the rest of us Americans in our individual pursuits of happiness.

I don’t mean that as a slight.  Rather, I see it as Mr. Chesterton did:

“We should always endeavor to wonder at the permanent thing, not at the mere exception. We should be startled by the sun, and not by the eclipse. We should wonder less at the earthquake, and wonder more at the earth.”

That is to say the mythical Marlboro Man is decidedly less wonderful than a real story of a rancher named Jeff and his son who likes to talk about dinosaurs and other important things.

And while we respond to a hungry world with the triumphant call of progress, we see that agriculture’s endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth has always been miraculous in its monotony. To get caught up in the heroics of feeding the masses is to forget that each sprouted seed offers a sufficient marvel.

How much more wonderful to think that this intimate involvement in the process of life is not reserved for a special class of God’s chosen caretakers, but is work chosen by mere human beings.

And then to see a that a farmer’s stewardship of land mirrors a teacher’s stewardship of knowledge or a musician’s stewardship of culture or a nurse’s’ stewardship of health is to see we share something in our humanity.

So in all this clamoring over the right image, I’ve come to learn that any particular farm is simply an extension of its particular farmer. If you hope to understand anything about agriculture, you’ll first need to know something about its people.  Particular people – with names, and faces, and passions and perspectives.

You know, people like you and me.

Seth Teter is an agricultural communicator at the Ohio Farm Bureau working to facilitate conversations at the intersection of food, agriculture and community.


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GPS Navigation for Starting The Conversation

I’ve talked to a lot of kids. A lot of kids. They are the reason that I first got on Facebook. They are a real inspiration to me. But being a kid these days is a tough deal. Much more difficult than it was when I was young. Any parent who say otherwise is not seeing the whole picture. But that’s not the reason for this blog.
A good friend of mine, Ray Prock, noticed several of my Facebook status and commented that a lot of the similarities exist between what I do with young people and what we do while engaging the public about farming.  It turns out he’s very right. (It pained me to write that down)
So after some though, I’ve narrowed it down to a few points to help start a conversation.

The best opportunities take time.

Rarely do you sit down and have a heart to heart of the first conversation. No one trusts you completely the first time they talk with you. To gain a certain level of trust is something that takes time, it’s something you earn. Relationships are that way, they take time. But you need to really care about the other person, beyond just the conversation.

The best conversations came from a connection that wasn’t forced.

Most of the time we just talk, share some laughs, talk about what is important to them. The very first agricultural conversation I had with a young person was based on some youth ministry stuff that I volunteer for. Really nice young lady who I knew nothing about. For a year all I knew was her first name. She was, might still be, a supporter of PETA. We had some great conversations. It was an easy give and take that lasted for a year.

If they want to talk, and you can make it work, you need to make it work.

Timeliness is important, sometimes immediacy is really important, but when they want to talk, talk. A lost opportunity may be exactly that, lost. Now the things that we discuss with customers of Ag products might not be as urgent as someone struggling with cutting, depression, or suicide, but everyone wants someone to listen. If you can be that, the rewards are amazing.

Never, I repeat, NEVER, lose it. 

When a young person is having a really bad day, possibly because of a bad decision, the last thing they want to hear is someone telling them they are an idiot. They are hoping to hear the voice of reason. Our consumers are wanting the same from us. The comments they make might be made to get a reaction, be careful what that reaction is.

Practice helps.

The more conversations I have, the harder it is to surprise me. It can happen, but repeated conversations lets you anticipate some of what is coming. Knowing what questions to ask and having an informal game plan in place, all make the interaction less stressful for both parties.

Sometimes it won’t be a conversation.

There are times when I just need to shut up. I’m a salesman. It’s my job to get people to talk. But sometimes they don’t want, or don’t know how to express what they are feeling. That’s a reality of life. Not that an attempt shouldn’t be made, but I try not get upset or frustrated if they don’t respond by baring their souls. Ag conversations are the same way. We think we know the answers, or are willing to be a listening ear, but that may not be what is needed at that moment. It’s a reality.Well, that’s all the wisdom I could extract. I hope it makes sense come morning…..
Mike Davelaar has been selling molasses for cattle feed and advocating for agriculture in South Dakota for more 20 years. For the last decade, he’s been mentoring young people offering them someone to talk to and often a shoulder to cry on.
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Directing Your Digital Identity

Admit it, you do it. Your friends do it. Probably most people you know do it.

Google Search for Don Schindler

My Google Search

You google yourself. You know, to see what comes up.

Sometimes when you do this, you find out there are a lot of people with your same name – there’s a “Don Schindler” that coaches women’s basketball in Wisconsin. He pops up in my Google Alerts (if you don’t have these set up, you should. Google simply emails you when they find something new about you on the internet.) a lot during their tournament time.

You might be very happy with what pops up on Google about you. Maybe you have some great photos out there, your facebook profile or twitter. Or maybe you are not so happy. Maybe there’s not much about you at all out there or maybe nothing about you (that would be hard to believe since the internet has been gobbling information about you and everything around you since it came into being). Or maybe it’s worse. Maybe there are things you don’t want people to see at all. That’s not a good thing.

But this is Google, right? You can’t really control what Google does about your online information. Or can you?

Well, I’m a big believer in feeding Google the information that I want Google to have about me. This way if people are searching for me – they find what I would really like them to find.

First, you need to do a good search on yourself or your farm. You’ll need to log out of your browser and you need to clear the browser’s cache because it is tracking your movement on the internet and it will bring up stuff that it thinks you need. Then do a search.

What comes up? Is it your facebook page? A mention in the local newspaper? Your website? Is everything up there what you would want to be seen if someone else was searching for you?

What if nothing was really coming up on you?

Feeding the Google machine about yourself isn’t that hard. You are probably doing it already via Facebook. The only problem is that a lot of what happens in Facebook, stays in Facebook.  The good thing is that Facebook is going to be opening itself up for search with the all new Facebook Graph Search.

If you want Google to find you, then you need to branch out into things google can see like:

  • A blog or website: I know having a website can be burden but you actually own the property compared to just “renting” space on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.
  • Linkedin: Linkedin is a powerful connection tool with over 200 million members but it’s benefits are also in search where it almost always displays for people’s names.
  • Twitter: Twitter is an easy way to put out content and have Google index it (it won’t get every tweet but index your name).
  • Instagram, Flickr, YouTube:Photo and video social networks work great for indexing your name to content that you are putting up.NOTE – get good photos of you on the internet associated to your name. It’s as simple as renaming your best photos don-schindler.jpg and putting them up on a website or blog.
  • Use your name with industry specific websites. Stop using thecooldude2012 as a username and just use your name like donschindler. If you are doing bad things and you don’t want people to know it’s you, then stay off the internet. They will find you.
  • Commenting: I like to think of commenting as a way to let people know who you are and to lead them back to where you live on internet (your blog or website or facebook page). The more comments you leave on other websites, the more people will get to know you.

I also have a slideshare deck on personal branding if you care to check it out – it has more insights (for a six hour class) but not a lot of text.

What tips do you have for getting Google to index you correctly?


Before recently becoming the SVP of Digital Initiatives for Dairy Management, Inc., Don Schindler was the managing director for University Communications at the University of Notre Dame. He managed the award-winning departments of print, web and multimedia.

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