The self-proclaimed Farm Babe didn’t grow up on a farm, but that doesn’t stop her from telling the story of agriculture to all who will listen.
Michelle Miller, a Wisconsin native, has been the Farm Babe online full-time for six and a half years as an advocate for agriculture. She calls her journey to becoming the Farm Babe as a funny one. Miller spoke at the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s Virtual Stakeholders Summit May 4.
“I was a 4-H kid growing up, so my friends were farm kids even though I didn't grow up on a farm,” she said. “They got me involved in 4-H and every day after school we would do chores and ride horses, and the farm life was something that I really loved as a teen growing up.”
In high school, every aptitude test told her she should be involved in agriculture—a farmer, veterinarian or work with animals in some capacity.
“But like many other teenagers who grew up in a smaller city, I wanted to see what else was out there,” she said. “So I actually moved to Los Angeles, got a degree in fashion and ended up working for Gucci on Rodeo Drive.”
She laughs, saying if someone would have told her college self that one day she’d be raising livestock in the middle of nowhere, she would have been shocked.
“But now I jokingly like to say that I've gone from Rodeo (Drive) to the rodeo and that my food fears have turned into food favorites,” she said.
While in college living in Los Angeles and later in Chicago, Miller was exposed to various films and information that was inaccurate in regard to agriculture. Documentaries like Food, Inc., twisted her outlook.
“I know some of you are probably shaking your head because you realize that this movie is not at all an accurate portrayal of the animal agriculture industry or agriculture in general for that matter,” she said. “But I had really become victim to these food myths.”
She’d had a personal trainer tell her to give up gluten if she wanted to lose weight. She had become an anti-genetically modified organism activist who’d only eat organic foods.
“I was terrified of the food supply,” she said. “This movie made my cousin go vegetarian and it was very influential on us that we're so far removed from agriculture.”
At a bar one night she was “hit on by a farmer.” She dated Doug, an Iowa farmer, long distance and later moved to Iowa to be with him on the farm.
“That's really kind of when I started the Farm Babe,” she said. “Because here was this guy that was growing thousands of acres of GMOs and had cattle feedlots and was using hormones and antibiotics and all this stuff that I thought was terrible.”
It was at that point where she learned how misinformed she really was and it was time to speak up.
“I went from this girl that was super terrified of her food to being one of the biggest advocates for it and realizing people don't deserve to be lied to or misinformed,” Miller said. “I really wanted to bridge this communication gap.”
She ended up dating Doug for almost eight years, but after the relationship ended, she now lives near Gainesville, Florida. Miller remains committed to the Farm Babe though.
Make a difference
Miller believes the voices of farmers and ranchers can make a difference. When she started her page she thought she’d be happy with 1,000 likes and didn’t think much of it. Now that it’s grown to about 200,000 followers, she sees the significance. Farm Babe got her name after she was blocked and banned from the Food Babe’s Facebook page within 5 seconds of commenting on a post.
“You have so much misinformation online right where fear is such a popular way to sell a product,” Miller said. “Fear, misinformation, hyperbole, celebrities—these influencers that have a huge platform into scaring people about food.”
She left a “very polite comment” on a post saying, “We grow GMOs on our farm, I promise you we're not drenching our fields in chemicals. I'd love to have a conversation with you about it or invite you out to the farm so they could better know, discuss what we do on our farms every day.”
Rather than engaging, Miller was banned and realized how insane the situation was.
“If the Food Babe isn't going to allow farmers to talk about farming, I'm just going to be the Farm Babe,” she said. “So I started to learn from experts like many of you—farmers, veterinarians, animal welfare experts, anybody that works in our industry—is really who I started to give a voice to.”
In her time as an advocate, Miller has found people need to step outside of their comfort zone and realize they can make a difference on some of the hot topics.
“We have people that are concerned with where their food comes from,” she said. “They want to make sure that animals are treated the best.”
Consumers want to know about hormones and antibiotics, the environment, soil health, organic food, pesticides and GMOs. They want to know about labels because they’re so confusing. The average person doesn’t get to talk to ag experts and doesn’t always know specifics about how their food is produced.
“Social media is the number one source for people getting their information,” Miller said. “A celebrity can do a video and reach tens of millions of people. We have mommy bloggers that have trusted tribes, people listen to their friends on Facebook over their doctors.”
It’s easy to listen to the trusted voices of that friendship circle, video content, news feed, trending topics and issues that go viral. But what happens when that information is wrong? Miller shared a few tips when it comes to disseminating information.
“We now have to train our minds to think,” she said. “We can't just read something at face value. We have to question everything because anybody can say whatever they want online.”
Miller suggested digging a little bit as to what the author’s background is in agriculture. Google the author along with words like Human Society of the United States or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. If the author is linked to these organizations, they may be an activist and they may have an agenda. On the flipside when the author is a professor of animal science, they’re “probably pretty credible.”
“Another thing—are they selling something?” she said. “Fear’s a popular way to sell.”
Click bait stories saying everything is trying to kill you unless you buy their product. Or sharing “studies” that show certain information supporting their claims.
“Do they share the study? Is it a credible link? Who funded it? Is it peer reviewed?” Miller said. “Sometimes people say I work in the animal agriculture industry so people don't always trust me as a trusted voice, but you have to think about it, you are a credible voice.”
If people have trouble with their Apple cell phone they’re calling Apple. If they have trouble with their Ford truck, they’re calling Ford, Miller said.
“If they have a question about animal agriculture, they should contact experts in animal agriculture,” she said. “You have the credible voice to make a difference.”
Miller believes when people in the agriculture industry come together, mountains can be moved.
“There's a lot of things we can't control right. We can't control market price. We can't control the weather,” she said. “There's a lot of things we can't control, but we can control the perception.”
She thanked those who work in acres and not hours and for all who support agriculture—inside of and out of the industry.
“We really thank you, because we have to come together and together we can make a difference,” she said.
For more information about the Farm Babe visit www.thefarmbabe.com.
Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or firstname.lastname@example.org.