Wagner: When telling ag’s story, connections count

Farm Forum

I’ve been on a bit of a traveling spree this year. In fact, a three-week stretch has been the longest I’ve been home since 2015 began.

Although I miss my boys terribly when I’m gone, I do feel like I’m accomplishing something when I travel. I’ve not only been able to share my farm’s story, and the story of agriculture, but I’ve also been able to make some great connections. Not only personal connections, but the kind that can make a difference in the future of agriculture.

It’s been an amazing experience.

But during my many hours in airports and on airplanes, I’ve also learned one valuable lesson: We have a long way to go.

We flood our social media feeds with statistics and facts and figures. We try to scientifically prove our point, letting people know where the science stands in the whole scheme of food safety. And yet, the conversation falls of deaf ears, for the most part.

Numbers and data mean little. The stories and connections are where you make a difference. The people that I met do not want to hear their food is safe; they want to see their food is safe. They want to see the farmer, hear their stories and know their backgrounds. And that’s when we can start to make a difference.

For example, on one particular plane ride, I overheard a conversation one row ahead of me. The two gentlemen were talking about that familiar sign in our mailbox that spring is on its way, the Gurney’s catalog. One gentleman shook his head and claimed, “You know, everything is GMO these days. Even our heirloom tomatoes.”

Normally I do not interrupt conversations I’m not part of, but this time I couldn’t help it. I apologized for overhearing their conversation, but corrected them that tomatoes were not one of the eight crops that have actually been genetically modified. They looked at me a bit sideways, but took the bait and welcomed me into their conversation.

I told them that I also love to garden. It’s a relaxing and therapeutic to spend time working with the plants and watching your hard work reap such great rewards. I told them that my husband feels the same way about our fields, and that we couldn’t imagine raising our kids any other way.

We talked about deciding what to plant in the garden this year, and how seed selection can vary. We talked about plant breeding and hybrids, and how seed selection can be beneficial to providing us new varieties that can withstand the harsher climates up here in the north.

And then the conversation came full circle. We discussed the pros and cons of scientific farming, and how our world can benefit, and what cautions need to be taken.

I may not have changed their opinions, but I was able to share my story — and give them a resource for real information, not just paranoid tabloid fodder. That’s worth more than frequent flyer miles any day.

Val Wagner loves raising her four boys on the farm in Dickey County, along with her husband, Mark. Catch her blog, Wag’n Tales, at Contact her at