Food Conversations and Variable Equations

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Can simple algebra help solve a complex food and agriculture problem?

I’m an agricultural communications professional by trade, a wannabe farmer at heart, and a lifelong learner in practice. But one thing I’ll never claim to be is a mathematician (in fact, my spell-checker tells me I even have problems spelling it!).

I know I’m not alone in saying I sat in algebra classes wondering if I’d ever use any of this stuff in “real life.”

As it turns out, I’ve found there are a few things I’ve carried with me from basic algebra that are handy today. One of them being that a problem is never solved until an unknown factor is found that will balance both sides of an equation.

Now, many of us in agriculture are fans of science-based approaches to solving problems. Science tells us what is true, what is possible or impossible, and what is proven to be a way to reach a hypothesized result.

So let’s take a science-based approach to a real-life problem using good old-fashioned algebra.

Let’s consider…

1. The Problem: There is no denying there is a growing distrust in modern agriculture and our food system among those not directly involved in food production. Most of us in agriculture, and many outside of agriculture, would define this as a “problem.”

2. Two “sides” of the Equation: Many believe there are two sides to this “equation” — those involved in food production and those involved in food consumption. (Though I, and others, will assert that a problem-solving approach based upon taking “sides” will not do much to solve a problem.)

Many divergent approaches have been proposed as ways to solve this “problem” from both sides of the “equation.” Speaking from the food production side, most of us take the approach that in a nutshell, “Today’s consumer is three generations removed from the farm.”

3. The Inverse: Another basic tenet of algebra is the “inverse,” also defined as an opposite but equal function that when applied, helps take us down the right path to solving the problem.

This is the part of the process that we in agriculture often neglect to apply to this problem, which ultimately hinders our progress. In this case, the inverse is the realization that “Today’s farmer is also three generations removed from today’s consumer.”

Only when we consider and apply this inverse operation in our efforts to balance the equation will we be able to start working on solving this problem.

Reassessing our Order of Operations

I admit, I’m no expert. I bailed on my advanced math classes while pursuing an atmospheric science degree in college and ended up rediscovering my agricultural roots through a passion for communications. But in my experience, I have found my best successes come from forging altruistic connections for the long-haul that, while maybe not immediate, always overwhelmingly pay the best and most consistent dividends in return.

Math was never my strong suit. But the basics of algebra tell me there’s a lot more to solving this equation than the science.

Perhaps an unlearning of our current order of operations, and a relearning of how to combine communications, connections, empathy and altruism could be the answer that all sides of the equation need to apply to help solve this complex problem we face.

Ready to do some math?

No doubt, there are components of this equation that deserve deeper exploration. What are they? How do we apply the inverse above in helping solve the problem? Let’s talk about it in the comment section of this post!

Dan Toland is Director of Digital Strategy for Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, where he advises the organization on new and emerging web and social media trends and strategies to continually build upon and improve its digital presence and engagement. He is the author of the award-winning “Discover Your Social Web: An Ohio Farm Bureau Guide to Social Media,” which has been read, shared and used in social media training programs throughout North America. His efforts have earned Ohio Farm Bureau the distinction of having the “Best Social Media Program” as awarded by American Farm Bureau Federation for the past two years.