I recently had an amazing opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. with some great people from the Montana Farm Bureau. The primary objective of the trip was to attend a training seminar with representatives from many other states with the American Farm Bureau Federation.  We also visited with some members of the Montana Congressional Delegation while in D.C.. I often feel that when living in a rural area and working in agriculture it is easy to feel disconnected from mainstream society and the political processes of our country.
Walking into the AFBF headquarters in DC was a humbling but also a refreshing and an inspirational experience. All the people I met there and interacted with were very passionate about their jobs and although they lived in a metropolitan area they all seemed to have some connection to agriculture. It is great to know there is a group of people just minutes away from our nation’s Capital Building that work day in and day out to advocate and support agriculture across our country. The training seminar was put on by the AFBF Promotion and Education Committee and was titled Target: Food Consumer Engagement. 
The content, the format and the presenters were all great. The training as a whole could probably be part of a masters degree program in marketing. As a cattle rancher, when the animals that I raise and care for leave my ranch they are only beginning their journey to the dinner table, so I very rarely have an opportunity to interact directly with a consumer. I know that I do not have to lookvery far on the internet or watch TV too long before I find a misconception or misunderstanding of how agriculture works and how our food ultimately makes it from the farm or ranch to our plate. Just as I said that sometimes I feel disconnected from mainstream society, I am sure many people feel disconnected from agriculture or perhaps don’t even think about the journey their food makes to arrive at their table.
My biggest takeaway from attending this training is that all people share in agriculture because we all eat and it is the responsibility of the people involved in agriculture to share our stories, of not how we raise crops or livestock but why. As farmers and ranchers we have a responsibility to protect plants, animals and the environment and provide healthy wholesome food. As a cattle rancher my goal is to provide healthy, wholesome food for my friends and family that comes from an ethically grounded and sustainable place. Sometimes this message is difficult to communicate and often as farmers and ranchers we get frustrated trying to communicate our stories. This training opportunity provided many tools to help communicate my story and the story of agriculture. AFBF provides many great training tools for young people, all the way from kindergarten to college.
My wife is a kindergarten teacher and I was very excited to share with her these tools and lessons. I know that she will use them and share them with her colleagues. I also plan to share them with people in our community and help our local Farm Bureau to utilize them in outreach projects. Communicating a message can often be difficult and in our society today the use of social media is almost a necessity. I had been previously turned off to social media because of all of the negativity that can be present there, but this seminar taught me methods to wade through the negativity and reach people. Often the negative voices are the loudest and can drown out many positive messages and stories. There were many important things I discovered at this seminar, some I found more personally valuable, but the tools regarding social media may prove to be the most important. 

In closing, this trip and experience opened my eyes and broadened my horizons to many things and I will use these tools and experiences to better express my story about agriculture and hopefully advance the knowledge of consumers. 

J.M. Peck operates his family’s ranch near Melrose, Montana. Follow him on social media: @trappercreekranch.