What’s in a Language?

Eric Kuehl
District IV Promotion & Education Committee

What’s in a language? Have you ever found yourself at the mall, hardware supply store, restaurant or a park in the last year and encountered someone speaking a different language? How did that make you feel?

American Heritage Dictionary defines language: a system of words formed from such combinations and patterns, used by the people of a particular country or by a group of people with a shared history or set of traditions.

We live in a world today where language is becoming ever more important and no place is that more evident than in agriculture. We rely on exports to drive the use of our raw goods from soybeans, pork, beef and the list goes on. We also speak ‘ag’ in an attempt to tell our story to our customers domestically and find that even though we ‘speak’ the same language we are not speaking the same language.

Around the World
In October, my wife and I took our boys to Disney World in Orlando. We spent one entire day of that trip at the Epcot Center and toured displays from Norway, Germany, Mexico, China, Italy, Canada and France. All of the employees at each place were native to the country and all spoke excellent English. In fact at our visit in Norway, we found that they are all required to speak a minimum of three languages upon graduation from high school. Two of the young ladies spoke five different languages. Wow what an amazing advantage they have!

This struck me that we (U.S.) rely so heavily on other nations for so many things, and yet most of our high school graduates only speak one language.

Our oldest son, Carter, is enrolled in a Mandarin Chinese immersion program as part of the St. Cloud Public School system. It is our hope that he will continue in this program and graduate high school with command of two languages. Why Mandarin you may ask? English may be the current language of business, but our future for trade and growth comes from the east and much of that will be in China. They have roughly 1.4 billion people under a system that only allowed one child, which has now been changed and each family can now have two children. Think about the growth that policy change will have nearly immediately to their growth! If you still are not convinced, ask Swiss firm Syngenta how important China is, ask Dow and Monsanto who booth hold technologies that are being held back from large scale production until China approves them for import.

Customer’s Language
Folks, we all come from different walks of life, different farming practices, different crops grown as well as different languages spoken. We all unite though in one unified language ‘food and family.’ So the next time you’re out and hear a language that is different than your own, take a moment to think about that language. Where does it come from, its history, and what do you think they consume? Are they my customer? Are we speaking their language or are we talking to them in our language, and in doing so missing the opportunity to share what it is we are all so passionate about?

How does this translate to all those U.S. consumers that so desperately crave to know where and how their food is produced? We know the language needed to tell our story but is it in a language that our consumers understand?

Like our son who is learning a new language, we all will struggle a little and be a little uncomfortable early on in the process. Think about the end result and the massive gains we can have by simply speaking the same language.

In Closing
I look forward to serving you as a committee member of the Promotion and Education (P&E) Committee, what an exciting time it is for us to use our God given talents to talk about what we do. It is just as easy as that, share your story, not your neighbors, yours. Have a conversation with someone in the grocery store, airport, church, local civic organization or a family event (because we all have family members that don’t understand what we do). Trust is built on knowledge and knowledge is built on awareness, and there is no time like now to step out and learn to speak the ‘language’ of our consumer.

I leave you with one final thought, when you have the opportunity go to YouTube and type in the search feature “Mike Rowe and Sheep castration” take 20 minutes to watch this video. Give thought to what he has to say and see how we can apply these concepts in our life. Do we know what to expect? Do our consumers know what to expect from us and are we truly proud of the hard work it takes to make sure that shelves are full every time a consumer walks into the grocery store?!?