The Foundation, the Sponsors, and the Important Stuff.

Wow. There’s a lot of talk going on on Twitter right now about the ‘real’ story behind #agchat. Some people have this idea that the AgChat Foundation and #agchat conversations are sponsored by ‘Big Ag’ (whatever the heck that is) as a way to get their products and self-enhancing messages out. First off, I’d like to say that the AgChat Foundation is a non-profit organization that runs off the donations of anyone who wants to support their mission and the work of some AMAZING volunteers. Secondly, I’d like to ask this:

Who cares???

Now, I know you’re probably like, ‘Huh? What do you mean ‘Who cares?” This is what I mean: Agricultural businesses of many different sectors support lots of different not-for-profit organizations. Syngenta, Monsanto, Tyson, and Cargill are just a few organizations that are supporters of things like FFA, 4-H, and the student activities of the National Agri-Marketing Association. These businesses give their money to non-profits because they care about the cause and purposes of these things. There are youth in each of these organizations who present, learn, and talk about things other than conventionally raised crops and livestock. However, it is about the larger goal. Supporters know that these organizations teach youth the skills needed to be strong and valued employees and contributors in agriculture.

To bring it back to the AgChat Foundation–I don’t know that there are any corporate sponsors of the Foundation yet, but if there were I wouldn’t care who they were one bit. Sponsors would be supporting the organization’s mission–Empower farmers and ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms. Not conventional farmers only. Not communities who only eat organic. Not platforms that are approved by our sponsors only. Every farmer, every rancher, every community, talking about every platform. That is what a sponsor who gives to the AgChat Foundation would be supporting.

Now, I won’t say that a company like Monsanto or Cargill wouldn’t be getting a little advertising out of their sponsorship. Of course they would–it’s lip-service and brand recognition. However, there are a lot of places a multi-million dollar business could get those things. They don’t have to support a bunch of farmers on Twitter to do so.

As I finish up, I would like to say thank-you to everyone who has volunteered their time to making the AgChat Foundation a reality. Your hard work and dedication has not gone unnoticed. I am so excited to meet you all in August and to see the good work that I’m sure will come from you never-ending passions in the future.

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5 thoughts on “The Foundation, the Sponsors, and the Important Stuff.

  1. I saw a tweet that led me here, and when here, I saw one of your tweets saying why did many farmers need a spokesperson to speak up about concerns re. Agchat.

    If I may I’d like to try and answer.

    The reason why ‘many others’ don’t want to get into the questions I am asking is because, quite frankly, they are concerned, some have used the word ‘scared’, about the consequences for them regarding their involvement – as farmers and individuals, NOT as employees of companies or members of anti-BigAg Seed groups – in farming organizations, local, state and national groups and indeed within their ‘real’ community and circle of off-line friends.

    Now, you can take it or leave it, but I got interested in Agchat.org back in April via my blog – about farmers ONLY – http://www.farmblogs.blogspot.com

    I even personally recommended it.

    Then I started to follow it a bit on Twitter and as my own concerns about SOME aspects of various peoples involvement within that community space grew, I received a number of emails from people – ALL FARMERS, ALL PARTICIPANTS WITHIN THAT COMMUNITY, telling me of their concerns. Concerns that I shared.

    So I studied it a bit more.

    Then I decided that as I hadn’t got anything to lose personally in terms of raising certain issues, and because these farmers were not prepared to, and openly said so, one saying ‘because I know the tactics of these people’ (meaning BigAg seed special interests), I decided to stick my neck above the parapet.

    I may not have done it in the best possible way – SM and Twitter is a very small part of my life and I’m a relative newbie – but the vitriol and insults and accusations made against some author stuck out here in the middle of rural France made me realise exactly why US farmers involved in Agchat would want to keep their heads down.

    But that vitriol has only been matched by the number of DMs/emails I have received FROM FARMERS involved in the agchat community, basically saying they agree with me but can’t get involved.

    Now, that doesn’t speak very well of the community does it?

    What I have said to FarmerHaley is this: listen Mike, I asked you to email me, you did, I’ve replied, why don’t I make a blog posting about this for my prime readership (people who come to http://www.farmblogs.blogspt.com – a lot of farmers when I only have about 90 followers on Twitter and half of them are new because of this agchat debate) and then I’ll have made an intelligent balanced post on my blog, I can put the link to my post on Twitter and I’ll be done with the damn thing. Mike can obviously do the same, or post my email on the Agchat website in the interests of reciprocal transparency. Mike is a busy farmer, and I’m waiting on that.

    What I’m finding alarming about all this is the amount of personal invective directed at someone who questions. I thought this was meant to be a community of diverse views and participants etc? Well I can tell you, and if you follow me on Twitter or look at my timeline you’ll see, I am getting very opaque answers to very direct questions, and repeated accusations that I am this, that or the other, when I have repeatedly explained my position.

    The entire experience has done nothing but strengthen my and the suspicions of others about SOME aspects of SOME peoples involvement in Agchat and the entirely less than transparent connection between them and BigAd seed special interests.

    As I wrote to Mike, if Monsanto etc want to give AgChat a load of money I wouldn’t take it, but I wouldn’t take it from anti-GM people or PETA either. I don’t think it serves the interests of a ‘farmer-led’ organisation (which actually, I’m not convinced it is on a day to day practical level) to take money from special interests. Surely that is a totally reasonable position that anyone could respect at least, even if they don’t agree with it?

    But if BigAg seed want to tweet under their name, declaring their interests, that’s fine by me and lots of other people in the agchat space.

    But not via tweeps whose connection to them we don’t know about, nor by ‘volunteer’ employees and lobbyists and social media consultants who have BigAg as CLIENTS and who are claiming to be putting all this time into Agchat as if it wasn’t a part of the day to day job and part of how they earned money from those clients!!

    I mean come on, let’s get real here.

    Is it just me that’s finding all this a little odd?

    No, so that’s one thing.

    But I do think an overall sense of protectiveness by real farmers who have nothing to do with BigAg seed money, is causing them are to go bananas about what I am saying because they think I am anti Agchat, anti BigAg seed (not entirely true, my position is more nuanced as I’ve explained to Mike in my email) or whatever.

    Their passion is getting in the way of reason.

    And all I’m trying to do is to introduce a little bit of reason to leaven the passion with. Not kill the baby.

    I hope that’s all clear, but you’ve got my email address if I can answer any more questions.

    KR
    Ian

    http://www.farmblogs.blogspot.com

    http://www.ianwalthew.com

    @IanWalthew on Twitter

  2. Ian,

    Again I thank you for your interest in the AgChat Foundation, as you know the foundation was an idea by a group of farmers that participated in the weekly #agchat started by Michele Payn-Knoper. I welcome you as a participant and look forward to your input and views in the weekly chat as well as in the #agchat stream on twitter during the week.

    I understand that you have a lot of concerns, but I feel that you are being very opaque in your questions and they have made it hard for members of the community to answer them. I understand that you are concerned that there are individuals that are using the #agchat tag and are not being transparent about who or what they represent. I understand this concern and I value transparency for individuals that agree with me and ones that disagree with my views as well.

    In the world of social media, as you know, we can’t control who does or does not participate in discussions. As Vice President of the Foundation I have either met personally or had several conversations with all the board and advisory board as well as the volunteers that work with the foundation and believe that they have been as transparent as possible about themselves. If you would like to learn more about these individuals their bio’s, as well as who they work for can be found on the AgChat Website here http://agchat.org/about/faces-of-the-foundation.

    Through a few email exchanges I have had with you it seems that the bulk of your concerns are about participants of the weekly chat. Although we can’t control who or how individuals use a hashtag on twitter we do ask that they follow the guidelines listed on the AgChat website http://agchat.org/about/twitter-agchat-foodchat%20‎. If you study these guidelines you will find that most of your concerns are addressed, but as I said its up to each individual to respect these suggested guidelines.

    You have asked that no special interest groups or “Big Ag” be allowed to sponsor AgChat or participate. I hope that you understand the complexity of your request as there is no true definition of “Big Ag”. As I read through articles in the Huffington Post several individuals consider anyone, including farmers, who participate in any part of agriculture other than an organic method is “Big Ag”.

    As we created the foundation and looked at social media, it was with the reality that our communities, both online and in real life are very diverse. In my county, you have biotech crops as well as organic crops. The farmers here understand each other’s production choices and do not want to impose their views on others, we simply engage in dialog and encourage each other to help share information with the public that may not understand. That’s what we are looking to accomplish here and I think the personal relationships many of his have developed over the past 18 months or so show that is happening.

    The Mission of the foundation is simply to “Empower farmers and ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms.” The foundation will have no role in shaping or telling farmers what message they should tweet or blog about, but only to encourage them to share their own story about how they farm. It is my personal view that anyone can sponsor individuals or the Foundation AS LONG AS they do so transparently so everyone knows.

    Please share this information with the others that have contacted you. I encourage them to speak up and voice their concerns to any of the board members, without their input it is impossible for us to know what their concerns are.

  3. We’ll have to agree to disagree Mike about whether special interest groups should be allowed a role on the board of agchat.org and as sponsors. But I just wanted to clear one thing up.

    What I (ME – not others perhaps) mean by BigAg in this case is multinational GMO seed companies.
    Onwards
    Ian

  4. Sorry Amanda/Mike: I was too hasty there.

    What I meant to say is “We’ll have to agree to disagree Mike about whether non-farmers (by which I mean ANYONE whose primary income is not farming) should be allowed a role on the board/advisory board of ‘the farmer-led’ agchat.org or whether special interest groups or Big GMO companies should be allowed as sponsors.

    But I just wanted to clear one thing up.

    What I (ME – not others perhaps) mean by BigAg in this case is multinational GMO seed companies.

    Onwards
    Ian

  5. Pingback: 2010 in review «

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