When your passion is public speaking, it is disappointing to lose an opportunity. A few months ago, I reserved a date in November to be a keynote speaker with the University of Wisconsin Extension, but due to a single compliant directly to the university, I had been removed from the agenda. It’s sad to not be able to address an audience in my home state, but such cancellations also have significant financial impact, as I had to pass on other opportunities in order to speak at UW.
Why would an academic institution like University of Wisconsin cancel my presentation? What kind of complaint was it?
The complaint originated from Pam Janke, a well-known, award-winning farm broadcaster in Southwest Wisconsin. She’s been hosting a regional morning farm report for decades.
Why would she complain? My only guess was that she has used the moniker the “Fabulous Farm Babe” for a while (her Facebook page under this name was started in 2009) and apparently feels that my use of “Farm Babe” was some sort of infringement on her intellectual territory.
According to this social media post and comment, I feel I my hunch was accurate:
What she does not realize is that I had no knowledge of her radio show or persona when I took on the name Farm Babe. My branding as Farm Babe was a direct response to the sensational food activist Food Babe. The branding was effective because Food Babe, whose real name is Vani Hari, was committed to posting misinformation about modern agriculture via a profitable online and social media empire. I was living on an Iowa farm and recognized her anti-ag messaging. I took to correcting her disinformation as “the Farm Babe” via social media — an obvious comeback.
At the time it was fun and informative, and I never could have guessed that debunking all the popular myths out there could blossom into a full-time career.
The Farm Babe moniker stuck, and a Facebook page blog evolved into a full-time speaking business. Since then I’ve given hundreds of talks to teach about and promote agriculture. It is my passion, and I’m grateful that my day-to-day job can be sharing information about an industry I love … for nearly a decade now.
That is why the cancellation from UW hit so hard.
Instead of complaining to the university to cancel my presentation and break the transfer of agricultural information, maybe a call to me would have been more appropriate. Perhaps understanding the origins of my branding would matter, and she’d view me as an ally rather than a competitor. We would be a much more powerful voice for ag if we worked together.
Her complaint to the university did not accurately portray who I am or what I do. I’ve never heard from her personally. I’m glad she does what she does.
We are on the same team here, and this incident showcases one of the major problems in agriculture today: We are much stronger when we work together, yet we fail to synergistically combine our efforts, and in cases like this, too often, colleagues tear down those who share our values and goals. When that happens, agriculture loses.
It was unfortunate that the University of Wisconsin would cave to such demands, however, there is good news! I did a social media post explaining what happened and had an absolute OUTPOURING of support. Hundreds of comments, DMs, emails, etc. flooded my inbox. It was so kind, and I really appreciate all the support.
Apparently, many of the supporters emailed the University of Wisconsin explaining their disappointment in the decision, too. With further polite communication, Wisconsin Extension agreed to put me back on the agenda. The power of social media and communication — it works. We need education and extension to embrace all different types of speakers; and not just worry if they’re stepping on the toes of one local treasure.
When our universities roll over to demands of a single complaint, and when agricultural experts target others in the same industry, this is hurtful to the good work ag is otherwise able to do. Our industry needs the support of the land-grant university system, as well as those that have made a living thanks to a career in agriculture. I thank UW for reconsidering. Together, this will be an amazing women in agriculture conference. If you’re a woman near Warrens, Wisconsin, on November 9 and 10, come see us at the event! Here is a link for more info and to register. In addition to myself, other featured speakers are Jolene Brown and Annaliese Wegner.
We are all on the same team; we’re all in this together. When we can leverage our individual talents and work together rather than initiating destructive infighting over petty claims, it will reflect even more positively on our industries.
Michelle Miller, the “Farm Babe,” is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, writer, and social media influencer and travels full time to advocate for agriculture. She comes from an Iowa-based row crop and livestock farming background and now resides on a timber farm in North Central Florida.