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 of us worked with other leaders in the agricultural social media community to build the AgChat Foundation in an effort to encourage other agvocates to embrace the tools of social media and proactively share information about their knowledge of agriculture.

The goal of getting more agricultural individuals to speak up has for the most part been a success.  Several recent events involving agriculture have proved that when a story involving farming or ranching occurs there are literally thousands of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural professionals that are willing and able to speak their mind and share their viewpoints about the situation.  As stated on the AgChat Foundation’s website agvocacy is:

Agvocacy is a combination of agriculture and advocacy.  The inherent active nature of the word has led many farmers and others in ag to make it a favorite for many in the #AgChat community and spread it to other channels and personal conversations. Agvocacy is not about targeting any selected group, such as media or elected officials – it’s representative of ag proactively telling our story.

When agvocating, it’s important to be proactive and listen to others concerns. It involves connecting with those outside of agriculture that are curious about today’s farmers and ranchers. Finding common ground on things and building from there provides opportunities to grow the conversation. It is through relationship development and discussion that understanding moves the image of agriculture forward. That said, agvocating is one way to get information about agriculture to the people who are interested.

Theoretical reach of Agtivists and Agvocates

Theoretical reach of Agtivists and Agvocates

Not all actions on behalf of agriculture can be considered agvocating though, as some actions are more along the line of agtivism. Agtivism is different because it has a more narrow goal to educate everyone about agriculture. It may not include interacting with consumers every day, but is geared toward setting the record straight quickly when they see misrepresentations about agriculture.  Individuals practicing agtivism, or agtivists’ often take offense to others with opposing views and dismiss theirs concerns about agriculture to prove their point that today’s agriculture practices must exist in order to feed the world.

These two distinct actions have very real effects on how they are able to connect and build relationships with the general public.

I liken the way that an agvocate communicates with others to how The Humane Society of United States (HSUS) communicates with others.  Even though HSUS has a goal of eliminating our right to consume animal protein, they walk a much finer line in their communications to the public and find ways that their ideals can connect with mainstream cultural beliefs and concerns.  A similar comparison can be made between an Agtivist and The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).   PETA has the same agenda of eliminating animal protein; however their communications are much more blunt expecting others to fully embrace their thoughts overnight, thus disconnecting themselves with mainstream values and are very easily labeled as extremists and end up only resonating with those that already support their beliefs.

There are several different ways to share your passion, none of which are necessarily incorrect methods.  If you are passionate about spreading information about agriculture to those outside of agriculture it’s important to look at your goals and what type of individual you are trying to reach.  From there you can best determine if you should work hard at becoming an agtivist or an agvocate, or a combination of the two…. just realize that one action could get in the way of the other because crossovers will stay around for a while.

So, what are you?

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48 comments

  1. Joyce Pinson says:

    I definitely consider myself an agvocate believing that agriculture needs to come together, both traditional and organic producers. Agtivists, in my humble opinion, are divisive often taking on not only anti-ag groups but folks within the ag community…a negative energy that weakens the positive work that has been and continues to be accomplished by agvocates.

    • Mike Haley says:

      Thanks for the comment Joyce, I agree you are a great advocate (one of my favorites). Its amazing to me how the both of us see agriculture very differently and have different ideas on what how we want others to see agriculture and at the same time can both be agvocates.

  2. Thank you for this article. I think many of us start out as activists because there was an issue that fueled our passion. As we mature we grow to be advocates.

  3. [...] woke up this morning to find an incredibly well written post by Mike Haley: ”agvocate or agtivist”.    Maybe what drew me in was this awesome visual: [...]

  4. Elliott says:

    “Even though HSUS has a goal of eliminating our right to consume animal protein.”

    Honestly…where in the world did you come up with that? That’s a gross misrepresentation of the agenda of HSUS. Now, PETA… that’s a different story, but HSUS does not share the same “goal” as PETA.

    • Mike Haley says:

      Hi Elliott – I have been following HSUS for a long time and wholeheartedly believe that this is their ultimate goal, if you dig into their policy’s or try to find a recipe on their website that has meat in it you may understand where I am coming from on this. I dont expect you to agree with me on this, but their Vice President of Animal Welfare was pretty clear in this address found on youtube.

      If I am correct in any capacity on that statement I do believe that you have proved my point that connecting with mainstream beliefs is more effective than PETA’s preaching.

      • Elliott says:

        Thanks for the reply, I appreciate your willingness to discuss. It’s an interesting video. The impression I got from the statements was that she would like to encourage vegan diets because it bypasses the current factory farming system. She now works as the Executive Director for Global Animal Partnership and their website says this “Each one of us, in our daily lives and in our own homes, can improve the lives of animals simply by choosing to support those farmers and ranchers who have a commitment to providing higher welfare to the animals they raise.” That doesn’t sound like the elimination of the right to eat animal protein to me.

  5. cowboyrich says:

    Most of my reach is other farmers; I suppose by that definition, I am an agtivist. I sometimes play devils advocate on issues because I want people to think about the issues for themselves rather than going with the status quo. I’m not preachy as your chart suggests, but I do suppose that my methods seem as if I’m “preaching to the choir”. I realize that there are many viewpoints in agriculture…that some modern farming methods are seen as unreasonable by some and revolutionary by others. But should I be attacked by these “advocates” because I don’t reach as big of a crowd as they do and because my message is geared towards farmers rather than consumers? I agree wholeheartedly with your blogpost. People who take the attitude that “either you’re with me or you’re against me” are no better than PETA, because they are closed minded and cannot see past their own agenda. This is where their message becomes propaganda rather than actually doing any good.

    But back to me, I still am trying to get “advocates” to see that there are more than one side to a story, and they should not be so paranoid and angry when one person’s story is different than their own.
    For example, one person has the opinion that factory farming is not a good method of raising pigs. But the mainstream agvocates advocate that it’s very efficient, safe, and effective. The agvocate should not get so angry with an agtivist who’s against factory farming. It’s just another side to the story, right? The whole reason everyone was angry with Chipotle’s was because they expanded their audience to the consumer. To an agvocate, this is unacceptable, because it puts a part of the agriculture story in a bad light. But should agvocates be the police on what consumers think and believe? They will say that the agtivist is lying and saying untrue things because of the negativity they’ve been put in. Sometimes, rightly so, because it IS untrue. However, not all things are said under false pretenses. Yet, the ag community still gets the knee jerk reaction when someone in the world of ag takes the opposite side of the fence.
    I’m sorry for my long response. Next time I’ll try to keep it down to a few sentences. I think your blogpost is a wonderfully written, and I agree with everything you say. But not all agtivists are as closed minded as PETA, and not all agvocates have the whole story. Thanks for posting, it was very enlightening, and I love reading blogs that make you think!

    • Mike Haley says:

      Hi! Thanks for the comment! If your goal is to reach other farmers and not outside of agriculture you are most likely neither an agtivist or agvocate. I find it interesting you bring up the Chipotle video as that was the event that made me start thinking about this blog post. Watching the comments on the Chipotle wall all I could think was that none of the farmers where making any effort to connect with anyone other than themselves. 90% of the comments on the Chipotle wall where from agtivists and definitely where not advocating.

  6. Valerie says:

    Thanks for reminding us to challenge our thoughts & motivations. I agree with Emily, I think we do grow to become agvocates. I myself am guilty of being an agtivist at times. Not coming from Agriculture, I feel especially propelled to share what I’ve learned about it and how great it really is. And sometimes passion lets us get carried away. I too, recently blogged about the power of our words, and am hoping to achieve more agvocacy as time goes on–I beleive it resonates with a larger group of people and allows more conversation than war. Thanks for the great post!

  7. Marie says:

    Very thought provoking, well written post Mike.

    I’ve thought a lot about these two words myself about what is too much and what is too little because at time I know I lean a litte more to the “Agtivist” side. I took a gander in the dictionary this morning and these two words are almost interchangable with one another from a definition stand point.

    Anyways back to the point, I think there’s room for both and I think we need both. I also think it takes “agtivists” to light a fire under the silent agvocates butts. Everyone has there own talent and style of agvocacy. Some talk & get along better with extremists, others do very well to reach the middle, average consumer, some talk great to politicians and maybe some are just meant to motivate the choir.

    We need them all because we need everyone telling their story about agriculture.

    • Mike Haley says:

      I totally agree Marie, there is definitely a place for both these actions. I do think though that its important to use them appropriately to keep from pushing others away.

  8. “When agvocating, it’s important to be proactive and listen to others concerns. It involves connecting with those outside of agriculture that are curious about today’s farmers and ranchers. Finding common ground on things and building from there provides opportunities to grow the conversation. It is through relationship development and discussion that understanding moves the image of agriculture forward.”

    And, therein seems to lie the greatest stumbling block for “agvocates” because when push comes to shove and “agtivists” are confronted with the hard question, such as why animals are cruelly kept in intensive confinement systems their entire lives, or why animals are rendered unable to express any of their natural behaviors, or why animal mothers are cruelly separated from their beloved babies, or why animals are artificially inseminated, or why animals are bred to grow so unnaturally fast so that even if they were able to live out their lives as nature intended, they’d be grotesquely deformed, or why animals are painfully mutilated without anesthesia, or why animal are REALLY fed antibiotics, or why big animal agriculture states are REALLY attempting to gag undercover investigators, they do not have any good answers. I can think of at least one Facebook page, The Truth About Agriculture, whose administrators simply block people who ask the hard questions, thus thwarting all efforts to “grow the conversation.” Their truth then becomes a half truth or outright lies. I’ve seen this lack of transparency more often than not.

    • Derrel White says:

      Janet, thanks for giving our facebook page, The Truth About Agriculture some free publicity. I think you know very well that just we encourage a lot of dissenting viewpoints and discussion on our page, thereby increasing dialogue among various stakeholders including consumers. I believe that just like you have loaded some of your comments to portray your own very personal view of agriculture in general, you have also misrepresented our page. In the two years since we started that page, we have banned a sum total of 3 people (you of course being one of those elite who was banned). We don’t take that decision lightly as it is a fine line to try and encourage dialogue and then have to make tough decisions to decide who gets to participate in that dialogue. Our criteria has been pretty simple. We allow EVERYONE to have their say for a while. When one person becomes very dominant especially when they hold views that represent an extreme viewpoint on either side, their dominance starts to limit dialogue. The three people who we have blocked had nothing to do with the fact that we disagree with their viewpoints. It had everything to do with the fact that when the overwhelming majority of people, even non-ag people disagreed with their ideology, those three including you responded by dominating the page with repeated (and biased) posts, became argumentative and tried to cause division instead of dialogue. In each of these instances all of the moderators on the page had discussions about how to handle it, gave repeated warnings to the problem poster about what would be allowed and not allowed, and only after those repeated warnings were consistently violated, we made the decision to block that person from the discussion. If you were to frame every single one of your tenets above in a way that truly wanted to see both sides of the issue, you would find many different sources of information about agriculture. But when you start a discussion with things questions like “why are animals mutilated” it sets a tone that you have already made up your mind that what happens is wrong and there is no additional information that can be provided that will sway your own extreme point of view, even if the typical person given both sides of the issue might not like what happens, or even agree with it, but at least understands why it happens.

      • Janet Weeks says:

        Case in point: Derrel White, one of the Half-Truth About Agriculture moderators, drones on and on and never really answers honest questions, but rather he deflects or denounces the questions as “loaded” or in some other way unacceptable. He takes a condescending tone, berates the commenter, and then changes the subject to focus on the motives or “agenda” of the “radical extremist” putting the questions forth. In other words, he goes into “attack and name-calling mode.” Now he mock-honors me as one of his “elite,” having been among only three people (he claims) ever banned from his Facebook page, for which, I assume, we are supposed to take his word.

        I challenge his accusation that I “dominated” his page. It is true that I posted provocative animal agriculture news items, occasionally, which ended up garnering more lively debate and discussion than any of the posts Derrel and his cronies ever posted. I honestly believe he was jealous that I was able to rouse such enthusiasm on an otherwise humdrum Facebook page. Time and again, I was viciously attacked, right under Derrel’s and the other moderators’ noses, by Derrel himself and other ag promoters as soon as anyone figured out that I was (1) vegan and/or (2) cared more about the humane treatment of animals than I did about ag’s bottom dollar. Were my attackers ever chastised or told to play fair? Not once.

        You see, it’s that arrogant, self-serving, self-aggrandizing attitude that turns people like me, and a growing number of other consumers, completely OFF to agriculture. It’s that attitude, and the total lack of transparency, we’ve grown to distrust. If we challenge animal farmers with tough questions, we do so to show that there ARE no good answers to why certain exceptionally cruel “standard industry practices” are done. We do so to raise awareness and let farmers know, in no uncertain terms, that we, the consumers, do NOT accept these cruel practices and we demand better for the animals on factory farms.

        • Mike Haley says:

          Hi Janet, Thanks for stopping by! I sense that you obviously have a lot of tension towards the issue you and Derrel are discussing, I believe you both have some valid points. I encourage the both of you to continue to have this discussion. I do ask that if you are going to use this blog post as your platform that you keep your comments polite and respectful to each others viewpoints and stick to the subject matter put forth in the blog and discuss your other issues in private or elsewhere. Thanks for your understanding.

          • Why certainly, Mike, I’m happy to stop by. Thanks for reading what I had to say. Rest assured, I’ve often been charged with being unflinchingly polite and respectful, even when I’m using someone else’s blog as my “platform.” Can do. I think even Derrel will tell you that. Curious though, why you singled me out in your salutation and message rather than address both Derrel and me equally?

          • Mike Haley says:

            Sorry, I guess I was not clear. I was referring to the both of you in my comment, you had just happened to be the last to respond.

        • Derrel White says:

          Here is what I am talking about Janet. You ask “why are babies CRUELLY taken away from their mothers”. That is a loaded question which presumes it is cruel to take babies away from their mothers. It is a good question if you ask why is it necessary to take babies away from their mothers. One question invokes defensiveness, the other engages discussion. In answer to the question, it really depends on the species. Is it cruel to take a human baby away from nursing its mother by the time they are say five or so? I would say not. For beef cows, we wean them normally around five to eight months. Considering the level of maturity of that calf, really we are leaving the calf on the cow longer relatively speaking than we typically have human babies nursing their moms. Most of the time for beef cows, we wean the calves for the benefit of the mother cow so that she can get her own body back into condition and recover in time to have another calf. Body condition of the cow, her nutritional needs and the available feedstuffs for that time of year have been what typically drives the decision. Over time, since many cow/calf producers have spring calves and the forage available to them in the fall is generally poorer quality, most producers wean their spring calves sometime early in the fall.

          • Janet Weeks says:

            OK, fair enough. Then why are infant male DAIRY calves taken away from their mothers and never allowed to nurse?

          • Derrel White says:

            I am not much of an expert in dairy Janet but I will try to get someone who is to answer that question. I am not sure that either male or female dairy animals actually get to nurse, but they do get bottle fed colostrum and then typically either waste milk or milk replacer until their digestive system is formed to handle forages, etc. So really it is the delivery method, not the product that they are missing out on. From at least my own perspective, there seems to be a couple of things that would prevent raising dairy calves on their mothers. First, dairy cows are high milk producers. That is not necessarily a good thing for either the cow or the calf. If the cow is not completely milked out it could cause her to have disease, etc. Also the teat of a dairy cow is typically a little larger than that of a beef cow. If the teat is so large that the calf could not effectively nurse the cow, that creates problems for both the cow and the calf. It is interesting to me from my limited experience with dairy, that the dairy mothers do not seem to be nearly as agitated with losing their calves almost at birth as the typical beef cow would being seperated from their calf literally at a “school kid” age. My gut tells me that dairy cows may have less maternal instinct than beef cows, but I have absolutely nothing to back up that thought. Perhaps someone who has studied this issue might be able to shed some more light on that.

          • Janet Weeks says:

            OK, fair enough. You’re not much of a dairy expert so let’s move on to a topic that you, perhaps, can respond to with greater expertise. Why are all male chicks killed upon hatching? And precisely how is that killing done?

  9. Robin Rastani says:

    Very thought provoking! Nicely put!

  10. Great food for thought. I must admit that I used to “preach” about “becoming a beef activist” and have been guilty of employing the activist model in the past. I like to think I/we have evolved, with encouragement from people like yourself. I agree that agvocacy extends the reach and engagement with consumers. But I also believe agtivism (there you go coining another term!), and even a little preaching to the choir, has a time and a place.

    I’m OK with adopting an activist tactic to get the attention of a company or organization that is intentionally spreading false or misleading information, then using the ensuing discussion as an opportunity to engage reasonable consumers in a conversation about the issue.

    I guess what I am saying is I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. In fact, I think your visual accurately depicts the evolution from agtivism to agvocacy that can occur in responding to an issue or event. The key is to make sure we move up the continuum to conversation and not backslide into divisiveness and derision!

    • Mike Haley says:

      Thanks Daren! I completely agree with you, there is a good time for agtivism. It is up to each individual to decide when it fits best. One thing that is often forgotten when making a decision in how to respond is who else is watching the conversation and how you may connect or disconnect with them.

  11. daringrimm says:

    Mike,

    Seeing this post yesterday morning, I was so inspired I wrote a blog post of my own, as you know. I also spent the day thinking about it, observing the comments here and as it was shared around the web. I still think it is pretty much spot on, with a couple of possible changes:

    1) “Agtivism” vs “Agvocate” I was interested in Marie’s comment that the dictionary root word definitions were very similar. The problem I think that arises is that there is a much more negative connotation to “Agtivism” making those that prefer that approach sound inferior/lesser than “Agvocates”. With the theme that words matter, I think a better description would be “conversationalists” vs. “debaters”. And maybe the best idea I’ve heard in this whole discussion is that the most successful agvocates are both debaters and conversationalists, depending on the requirement of the moment. Something I think you’ve alluded to in your responses to this post. Realizing that different personalities/styles will always be more one way or the other.

    2) The second item is the graph, which as a data dude I dearly love. I can see though that the rapidly upward sloping line for agvocates can make it appear that they are once again superior. I think Daren Williams comments on this from above are spot on, and would also note that for me personally or from what I have observed from others, often times our very first connections to those outside of agriculture happen from those things one might describe as “agtivism”, although I would agree that truly strong relationships will hopefully move from debate to conversation, that’s even true of a relationship like my marriage! (not sure where that tangent came from, it just seemed to fit…)

    I hope you don’t take my lengthy response as a criticism of the post. I think the concept, the idea is awesome, and certainly a benchmark going forward. I just think a couple minor modifications could go a long ways towards getting buy-in on this concept from those agvocates that may view it through a slightly different lens

    • Mike Haley says:

      Thanks for the comment Darin,

      I thought about your comment throughout my day. I will disagree on point #1 as I think both agvocates and agtivist enjoy a good debate, the difference though is that an agvocate is willing to listen to what others are saying in the debate and are willing to address their concerns where an agtivist will stop at nothing unless his points are proven correct. This was illustrated pretty good in a conversation happening in the comments right here in the comments on this blog. That said I dont think that debating is exclusive of agvocates or agtivists. Your thoughtst that agvocates are more superior than agtivists, I think that is one of personal opinion. I personally believe that there is a place for each as when communicating to the general public agvocating works best, if you are trying to encourage lawmakers to side with your beliefs agtivism may work better.

      Your second point about the slope on the graph for agvocates being steeper than agtivists. I thought about this a lot when I drew the figure, I came to the conclusion that as one engages in more conversations and gains more friends his reach increases exponentially therefore the slope should be steeper if not even curved at a higher pace than I graphed out in the figure but I was trying not to make it look “superior” as you mention. Remember the figure was just theoretical and has lots of room for error ;)

      Thanks for stopping by Darin and especially for taking the time to expand on my thoughts yesterday with your post about agtivism

  12. Cassie Reid says:

    Thanks for your post! For the past year or so I have heard the term agvocate. After reading your post, I would say that, as I have heard it used, it usually combines both agtivists and agvocates. I hope that one day I can become an agvocate, and in my journey blogging I have thought of myself as one. After reading your post I would consider myself an agtivist aspiring to become an agvocate. As a new blogger I have not developed a large network of followers to consider myself a agvocate. I feel that it is important to now only tell our story to other agricutlurist, but also to the people who need to hear our story the most, consumers.

    As a new blogger, what is your advice to reach other agriculturist and people outside of the agricultural field?

    • Mike Haley says:

      Hi Cassie,

      Thanks for your comment. Don’t get to caught up in who you are reaching to determine if you are an agvocate or activist, it’s more about the different qualities you exhibit while engaging with other individuals that determines who you will connect with.

      My best advice I can offer new bloggers is to get excited about agriculture issues and respond with passion, but make sure you drop the rage so your thoughts are able to be accepted beyond the typical agriculture chior. Check out an earlier post of mine where I share my concerns with America http://www.justfarmers.biz/blog/2011/09/20/an-open-letter-to-everyone/

      Thanks for stopping by, I hope some of the future posts we have lined up over the next couple months can be of help to you as well!

  13. [...] Read Mike’s blog to learn more. [...]

  14. [...] here I am sharing my story with you. And that’s what agvocacy is all [...]

  15. Keith Martin says:

    Very though provoking. It seems to me that many in agriculture who claim to be “agvocates” actually behave more like “agtivists. The focus on “talking points” and getting your message out has led to an excess of monologue and very little dialogue throughout our society.

  16. [...] go, do it. Just remember the difference between an agtivist and an agvocate: An agtivist tells you what to do. An agvocate shares [...]

  17. [...] Two years, twelve months and four days ago I joined Twitter.  I wanted to fight for agriculture in the war that had been declared against us. For those of you that have been around for a while I think you may agree that I was hell-bent on winning this war, I was a warrior on the front lines setting the record straight about agriculture. It was my passion and I was not going to let anyone get in my way of correcting the myths and lies that I saw other activist groups pushing about my way of life.  That’s right, I wanted to be an activist myself, an agricultural activist AKA ”agtivist”. [...]

  18. [...] and Nashville, learning a great deal both times. I’ve learned immensely from friends like Mike Haley, Janice Person, Jeff Fowle, Darin Grimm, Michele Payne Knoper and dozens of more who came on board [...]

  19. [...] Mike Haley’s post, Agvocate Or Agtivist?, his comparison between the two is representative of how those that have the ability to engage in [...]

  20. You are my inspiration, I have few blogs and rarely run out from brand :). “‘Tis the most tender part of love, each other to forgive.” by John Sheffield.

  21. [...] Agvocate or Agtivist? (Just Farmers) Share this:FacebookDiggEmailStumbleUponReddit Tags: Agchat, Agriculture, agtivist, agvocacy, Agvocate, grass seed farm, Marie Bowers, MyStory, New Agtivist, Old agvitist, Oregon, Oregon Women For Agriculture Posted in Guest, My Story What do we feed our baby? [...]

  22. Todd Fitchette says:

    I like the explanation of differences between HSUS and PETA. I hadn't thought of it that way.
    So then, how does agriculture take a similar communicative posture as HSUS? Does agriculture need, in order to succeed, advocates who are NOT directly involved in agriculture, such as farmers, or more indirectly, such as those in the companies and organizations that serve agriculture?
    It seems to me that HSUS may have a well-oiled communications machine with more money to devote to projects than does agriculture. Is that the case?

  23. Louise says:

    What a great blog! I am going to share on Linked In :) I have bookmarked your site to visit again in the future.

  24. Tanmay Roy says:

    I consider myself as an agvocate. Thanks for the great writing.

  25. […] according to those who coined the term, is about “listening to others…and connecting with those outside of agriculture.” […]

  26. Renuvacell says:

    Renuvacell

    Agvocate or Agtivist? | Just Farmers

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