A social license to farm

LEVERAGING THE POWER OF CELEBRITY

WHEN IOWA FARMER Chris Soules first agreed to participate in the reality TV dating show The Bachelorette he assumed that once it was over he would return to rural life and no one would even care who he was. Nearly two years later, Soules has taken a second public chance at love on The Bachelor, learned a few fancy moves on Dancing with the Stars, and amassed a public following that includes nearly 228,000 followers on Twitter.

“The results of The Bachelor experience were far beyond anything I had expected,” says Soules. “And once it was over, there was a moment when I stopped and thought, what can I do with this, what can I do to give back and really make this a worthwhile experience that doesn’t just go away. That’s when I realized, I need to continue to do what I really love; and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me to step up and be an ambassador for farming.”

In fact, Soules calls it a responsibility to use his celebrity to be an advocate for agriculture.

“Farmers have a tough time reaching out to the consumer and as a result of the show I’ve been given this unique platform that I don’t think a farmer has ever had,” notes Soules. “I think I have created a level of trust, just having my life all over television for the past year and a half, and I want to be able to build on that and help an industry I care so much about.”

MEDIA ATTENTION
For Meghan Burke, communications manager at Grain Farmers of Ontario, Soules’ willingness to be a public face of farming presented a unique opportunity for a media blitz that would connect consumers with grain farmers and help promote the Good in Every Grain campaign.

“As farmers, our social license to operate is at risk; however, Chris has developed an inherent public trust. He is well liked by TV viewers and what he does is therefore liked,” explains Burke. “Our goal was to develop a media tour that would extend the trust the public has in Chris to our own farmers.”

The media tour was held over two days in October and involved appearances on Toronto television and radio stations, magazine and newspaper reports, and social media promotion.

“We had an element of surprise with this project. People don’t think beyond Chris’ nickname of Prince Farming to what that really means. They expected to hear about girlfriends but he was here in Ontario to talk about modern farming — and he’s authentic, farming 5,500 acres of corn and soybeans with his family,” says Burke. “It sparked the public’s interest, making them want to see and know more.”

LOCAL CONNECTION
Grain Farmers of Ontario capitalized on that interest by connecting Soules with Daryl Haanstra, a Smithville grain farmer, and his family. The day spent at the Haanstra farm was captured through photos and videos that were shown during live television appearances and two videos produced specifically for the Good in Every Grain website. Media outlets e-talk and Hello! magazine were also given access to Soules on the Haanstra farm.

“We chose Daryl because he appeals to the same demographic as Chris. They’re around the same age, they have the same type of farm equipment, the same goals for their farm business, and Daryl has the family life that the public has watched Chris strive for,” explains Burke. “If we can extend the public’s trust from Chris to Daryl to all Ontario farmers we have made some strides in retaining our social license.”

Haanstra and his wife, Leah, an occupational therapist, have three children: Connor, 7; Olivia, 5; and Alyson 2. They are expecting their fourth child in December. The farm business, known as Twenty View Farms, employs five full-time workers and includes growing cash crops on 1,000 acres, providing custom farm services, and operating a newly licensed grain elevator, that was completed in October, as a way to diversify the business and fill a need in the local community. Haanstra is also a DuPont Pioneer dealer selling corn, soybean, wheat, and alfalfa seeds and inoculants. 

Despite his busy schedule with work and family, Haanstra was willing to let Grain Farmers of Ontario bring Soules and the media onto his farm because he believes in what the Good in Every Grain campaign is trying to achieve.

“I looked at it as a great opportunity for us as farmers to tell our story. We need to tell our own story,” says Haanstra. “I hope that the general public, those that follow Chris for example, get an appreciation for what really does happen on an Ontario grain farm, the work and the effort that we put into growing our crops in a sustainable way that is good for the land and leaves something for our children.”

MESSAGING
One of the key messages promoted during the media tour was that science and technology are a part of agriculture — and that’s a good thing. Advancements in crop genetics have allowed for improved use of pesticides and herbicides and help farmers grow safe, reliable, and sustainable crops. It’s a message Haanstra agrees is important to promote with the public.

“I think a common misconception is that farmers are somewhat reckless in our decisions and that we have no care for the environment. But every farmer cares for the environment and wants to be a steward of the land because we are family farms and we want to leave something for our families,” he says.

Both Haanstra and Soules encourage other farmers to share their own farm experience whenever or wherever the opportunity presents itself.

“We, as farmers, are surrounded by people who don’t know what we do every day, even if you live in a small town,” points out Soules. “They are busy doing their own job and as long as the food is at the grocery store, they’re not too worried about it. So I think you need to take those opportunities and be proud of what you do and talk about it. Be proactive — it takes effort and we need to make that effort and start telling our story.”

POSITIVE RESULTS
Soules’ Toronto television appearances reached more than three million viewers, his radio interviews were heard by over two million listeners, print outlets covering the story reached more than three million readers, and online coverage of his time in Ontario was viewed by nearly 12 million people.

“We had a fairly lofty goal with the number and variety of media outlets we targeted to be a part of this event. We were pleased to see all of them agree to participate and were even more pleased to see the effort that was made to ensure proper acknowledgement of Good in Every Grain and the role of Grain Farmers of Ontario in bringing Chris Soules to Ontario,” says Burke. “We achieved amazing results in terms of the number of consumers that were reached with these appearances. However, the bigger success is the unexpected trickle effect we saw through other media outlets and social media such as Instagram. We underestimated how quickly and how far news of Chris’ time in Ontario would spread.”

Burke believes the campaign was a success with consumers, but also believes it has generated a positive vibe about Ontario’s grain farmers.

“I would really like to thank Chris for how truly embraced our campaign,” says Burke. “When we first developed this idea, there was some skepticism around whether he is a legitimate farmer who can speak knowledgably and comfortably about important farming issues. After several pre-planning conversations and spending two days with him, all concerns were set aside because you can really see his passion for agriculture and depth of grain farming experience. When he says he wants to use his platform for this, he really means it and is sincere about promoting the good work done within agriculture.”

Go to www.goodineverygrain.ca to see the videos produced by Grain Farmers of Ontario and check out links to the media coverage you may have missed.

MAINSTREAM MEDIA COVERAGE

About Rachel Telford 84 Articles
Communications Coordinator, Publications, Grain Farmers of Ontario; Managing Editor, Ontario Grain Farmer Magazine