Farmers are often considered the “stewards of the earth.” But consumers aren’t completely convinced that’s true.

A study conducted by The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) asked respondents to rate their level of agreement with the following question: Do U.S. farmers take good care of the environment?

Just over half (51%) said they moderately agree, compared to 42% who strongly agree.

Terry Fleck, executive director of CFI, says the perception among consumers is that “big is bad,” and large farms are more interested in making money, even if it comes at the expense of the earth.

“I would also propose that the public has little to no idea what farmers are doing to protect our natural resources, so it’s difficult for them to form a strong opinion one way or another,” he says.

The solution is to engage with consumers, Fleck says, and connect with them on what they value, which their research has shown is 3-5 times more important to earning trust than just sharing facts and figures.

So what do consumers value? In a recent No-Till Farmer Podcast episode, Seth Watkins, a cow-calf producer and no-tiller from Clarinda, Iowa, shared a list of the top priorities consumers have for agricultural policies and programs. At the top of the list were drinking water quality, water quality for aquatic life, rural job opportunities, flood control and water quality for recreation.

Watkins also stressed the importance of listening to what consumers want and delivering on it.

“Businesses that don’t listen to their customers don’t stay in business,” he said. “For me, if you breathe air, drink water or eat beef, we’re connected in some way, and I should probably listen to what you want.”

I’m confident that if you’re reading this, you’re probably already implementing the practices that are going to help improve some of those top priorities. And according to CFI, consumers want to see those practices, because “practices are values in action.”

The CFI offers the following ideas for engaging with consumers and demonstrating those practices:

  • Taking advantage of local public speaking opportunities
  • Pitching stories to the media about seasonal milestones on the farm and incorporating environmental sustainability messages
  • Posting pictures with great captions and short videos shot on your phone to social media
  • Using Facebook Live to give “on-the-spot” reports about what you’re doing on your farm to protect our natural resources
  • Engaging in day-to-day conversations to better understand what’s important to your neighbors and community, and having meaningful dialogue
  • Sharing good values-based content from others on your social channels

What ideas can you add to this list? If you’re making an effort to connect with consumers and show them how you’re a steward of the earth, leave a comment below and tell us what you’re doing.