A Wisconsin native who traded in barn boots on a family dairy for business attire to put her agricultural education degree to use in Washington, D.C., McKenzie Baecker understands the challenges agriculture faces in telling its story to today’s consumer.
McKenzie, an Education Specialist for agricultural literacy and advocacy with the National FFA Organization, recently completed Engage Online, a new self-paced, five-module course from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) designed to empower participants to approach conversations in a whole new way – to earn trust through the power of shared values. Engage Online is modeled after Engage, a successful in-person communications training course from CFI that has equipped thousands in agriculture and food with the tools to effectively engage with consumers, thought leaders and influencers since 2009.
What are the communication challenges you see in food and agriculture today?
The agricultural industry has gotten very good at talking to ourselves. When we release new resources and data about food production, it gains the most traction from those within the industry, and rightfully so. However, we need to be having the conversations outside of the agricultural industry. When we walk down the aisle at a grocery store and overhear a conversation containing false information about food production, we need to have the confidence to engage in a meaningful dialogue based on shared values. Too often we put on the defense and get caught up in pushing facts, losing the opportunity to truly listen to concerns and respond with relatable stories.
You initially attended an in-person CFI Engage training. Tell us about your experience.
I was exposed to a different way of communicating about food and agriculture. Since attending the training, the way I approach conversations, not only about food and agriculture, but all conversations has changed tremendously.
The training was the first time that I began thinking about different ways to engage with consumers in a variety of settings. Previously, it had been drilled in my brain to always start with the facts. However, based on the research conducted by The Center for Food Integrity that was shared during the training, it didn’t take long to realize that beginning conversations with shared values was the most impactful.
Identifying shared values has become the first thing I do when engaging in a conversation with someone for the first time. When designing resources and programming for FFA members, there are many aspects of the Engage training that I incorporate. I found it to be incredibly valuable for communicating with others.
What are your impressions of Engage Online?
Engage Online is amazing! It was very comparable to the in-person training and makes the training accessible anytime, anywhere.
Engage Online offered the convenience to go at my own pace and infuse it into my day, as time allowed. It did not feel like typical online learning, where it is often too easy to become disengaged or move from one concept to the next, without fully understanding them.
It hit on all of the challenges we face in the agricultural industry when connecting with consumers and provided meaningful techniques to effectively communicate. All of the information was relevant and offered in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to be an expert in the agricultural industry to participate and understand the concepts. The training is valuable for anyone, at any level, to gain effective communication skills. I definitely recommend it.
What do you see as the potential for Engage Online, as it pertains to FFA and beyond?
I see Engage Online being used by local FFA advisors to teach FFA members about effective communication and advocacy. This could be used before a local FFA chapter celebrates National Agriculture Day, before a meeting of a community organization, or integrated as part of agricultural education curriculum. In general, I could see it being used by leading agricultural companies and commodity groups to train their employees on effective communication, specifically pertaining to agriculture.
Ready to Engage Online? Get started now at www.CFI-online.org!
For more information on group pricing or customization, contact Donna Moenning at Donna.Moenning@FoodIntegrity.org.