Building a longer table

By Michele Payn

Consider your table…does it expand as you add more people for holidays, celebrations and family time? Do you do everything you can to include others when you're hosting? Most of us worry about having enough food, the perfect recipe timed to come out on time and the right mix of people around our table.

Translating farm to food is no different. As the saying goes "If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not higher fences." If you are fortunate enough to be in agriculture, it's time we figure out how to build a bigger table and include those without farm and ranch roots.

How can you build a longer table to welcome people outside of agriculture?  How can you not put up higher fences, but take down the perceived fences of modern farming and ranching. How can you make more people feel welcome around your farm table?

Make it personal. Every time. 

Authoring Food Truths from Farm to Table taught me a lot, even after 15 years in agricultural advocacy.  I learned the way to building a longer table and translating the farm world is relating an issue in a personal way.

For example, when discussing genetically modified organisms, it's useful to know the differences in genetic techniques (e.g. seedless watermelons are not GMO, but achieved through pollen transfer, according to Dr. Kevin Folta) before arguing about them. Biotechnology and related gene editing techniques are complex, requiring a solid understanding before translating.

However, it's even more useful to ask if they know someone impacted by diabetes, then offer how insulin is a biotechnology product. For example, when I was interviewing Dale Leftwich, a Canadian canola grower, over Skype. As one of the farmers featured in the book, he talked about the medical value of GMOs.

Dale has a daughter who was diagnosed with diabetes at age seven.  "Life is better because of a stable source of insulin due to a GMO process with bacteria producing insulin. There's an abundant source of consistent, cost effective insulin due to GMOs."

What's the difference between the seedless watermelon and insulin example? From an agronomic standpoint, it may make more sense to you to discuss plant breeding. However, consider the millions of people impacted by diabetes. It is rare to not know someone affected. In other words, diabetes is personal to most people.

Taking an emotional issue like GMOs and relating technology in a personal, non-threatening way can sometimes instantly show the importance of why we use technology. In other words, it opens minds by touching hearts.

Building a longer table is not about imparting technical knowledge - that's more likely to put up fences. Rather, a longer table can be built by finding ways to relate on a human level. How can you relate the science and data of agriculture in a more personal way to make your table more inviting?

Michele Payn lives on a small farm in west central Indiana, where she and her daughter enjoy all things pink while working with their Holsteins. Michele speaks from the intersection of farm and food, helping thousands of people around the world through her keynotes and training programs. Visit or connect with @mpaynspeaker on social media channels. Her second book, Food Truths from Farm to Table, is expected late 2016.

Copyright© 2016 Cause Matters Corp. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction granted for

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