'The Farm Babe' highlights value of farmer engagement
When Burger King created a promotional video that implied cow methane emissions were causing global warming, a problem that could be reduced by feeding lemongrass, Iowa farmer Michelle Miller decided to take the bull by the horns.
She did some quick research and sent a tweet directly to Fernando Machado, the company’s chief marketing officer, to express why cattle producers had a beef with the content.
She admits she wasn’t expecting a response. But not only did Machado arrange a conference over Zoom, he eventually made a trip to Iowa and spent two days visiting Miller’s farm and others in the area.
Miller and Machado recently appeared together during the American Farm Bureau virtual convention to talk about how being constructive, rather than confrontational, led to a collaborative and mutually educational relationship.
Miller, who is known as The Farm Babe on social media, said she has gravitated toward “myth busting” as the niche for her online presence.
“No one ever questions the carbon footprint of their coffee or their alcohol. It’s always cows, cows, cows,” she said.
Machado made the trip from Miami and also brought the creative director from New York City who put together the original video. Using footage taped during their visit, they turned it into a new ad that highlights how Burger King is reaching out and connecting with farmers.
“I’m a big believer in sustainability and proud of the work we do here and always eager to learn more,” Machado said. “I think it was a great opportunity to build bridges.”
Plus, he added, “You don’t want the Farm Babe upset. She has a lot of fans behind her.”
Since she started her social account six years ago, Miller has grown her audience to hundreds of thousands of followers.
Miller is originally from the city, which she said helps her find common ground with others who simply don’t understand how sophisticated agriculture has become.
Machado agreed that most people have “a very romantic, classic and dated view of the farm.”
“They don’t realize all the technology and the work that goes into improving efficiency. It’s a very modern way of living, but people have a more romantic view of what farming is,” he said.
He wanted to come to the farm, he said, so he could see firsthand what farmers are doing to be more sustainable.
“One thing that really impressed me was the level of technology,” he said.
He was surprised to learn that livestock operations have dedicated nutritionists on staff. He had never heard of a methane digester before seeing one on a dairy. He also learned about how Miller’s family uses cover crops and no-till farming to improve the environment and feeds their crops to their own cattle rather than shipping them long distances.
“One insight for me was to see all the hurdles that farmers have to go through, especially during the last year, which was a tough year for all of us,” Machado said.
As a result, Machado said he planned to be more inclusive of their voice in the future.
“I can do a better job of bringing in people like Michelle who are in the industry as a sounding board,” he said. “We can only achieve things if we work together, to avoid blind spots, since we are going into uncharted territory.”
Miller has not had the same success with all companies and has even been blocked by brands such as Chipotle, she said. Even so, something as simple as a tweet can make difference, especially if there’s an effort to get it to the right person.
“We should think about the people behind the marketing just like we want them to think of us as the people behind their food,” she said.
She urged others to find their own niche for engaging on social media platforms. She hopes her experience with Burger King will provide a case study that can be used to connect farmer advocates with other food marketing companies, build bridges and start a more constructive dialogue.
She was intimidated about engaging on social media at first but now feels her efforts are paying off.
“You worry about the haters, but that’s a small part of it,” she said. “No matter what career path you’re on, you’re going to have ups and downs. But you can take a leap of faith and have an impact.”