How to Agvocate Unconventionally!

What does the history of European immigration and colonization in southern Brazil have to do with California rice? What’s riding a motorized plush kangaroo in a shopping mall got to do with educating the public about how rice is grown?  What’s the connection between South America’s largest waterfall system in the world and a YouTube channel called Rice Farming TV?

I suppose the answer is, not much. Just me actually. I mean that’s the connection.

In Episode 17 of Rice Farming TV, “Mission Statement!”, I, as the title suggests, laid out the purpose and goals of my short films: to educate the public about California rice, the labor that is required and the quality kitchen staple that is produced. In the episode I also provided some social proof and examples of how these goals are being met.

Then I hung up my farmer’s hat, packed my bags, and my family and I were off to Brazil for our winter vacation!  

In the following episode of Rice Farming TV titled “This is Joinville, Brazil!”, I’m thousands of miles away from our rice fields and introducing and explaining the history of my wife’s birthplace–Joinville, Santa Catarina, Brazil.

In the next episode titled “Beach Santa & Mall Kangaroo!”, I’m in a shopping mall doing some Christmas spending and fooling around on a super slow kangaroo-kart.

Then, I’m explaining how Santa gets into homes without fireplaces.

Next, I’m riding a bike in circles on the beach quoting Einstein.

Finally, I’m visiting the waterfalls of Iguaçu with my camera glued to tropical birds.

And so, you may be asking: What’s this all have to do with rice? What’s any of this have to do with your mission statement? You go from one video explaining how you want to educate people about California rice and then in the following 5 videos you don’t even mention California rice!

Aren’t we subscribing to Rice Farming TV? Where’s the rice farming?

These are valid questions, dear reader. These are valid thoughts, dear viewer.

Let me digress even more so.

When I first started Rice Farming TV, I was not at all tuned into the amount of bloggers, vloggers, podcasters and content creators that were spread throughout the country, advocating for their farms, their crops and for agriculture as a whole.

There’s Michelle Miller the Farm Babe, a writer and public speaker who effectively combats misinformation and myths, revealing how farms really work. Brian Scott of The Farmer’s Life is a 3rd generation corn, soybean and wheat farmer who, through educational videos, demonstrates how his farm works. Tim Hammerich of AgGrad supports college graduates in finding careers in agriculture while hosting the Future of Agriculture Podcast. Rob Sharkey, with his edgy humor, attracts a wide range of guests and listeners to his always engaging Shark Farmer Podcast.

We all share the common core value: advocating for agriculture. It’s a thing you know. There’s a lot of us. It’s a community really. And there’s a term for it. It’s as if those two words – advocate and agriculture – were celebrities joined in marriage, forming their celebrity couple tabloid name: Agvocate. We’re all agvocates and the deeper you go the more of us you’ll find. It’s a beautiful thing for the industry of agriculture.

We all know each other. We’re all friends on Facebook, we follow each others tweets, listen to each other’s podcasts and watch each other’s videos. We share each other’s posts, retweet, subscribe and quote each other. It’s truly a beautiful thing.

But at a certain level it seems as if we’re agvocating to each other in our own little bubble. So how do we get out? How do we pop into the general public’s attention?

I have an idea.

It’s by not always agvocating.

It’s not always about being a farmer. It’s about being a person. The farmer farms, but what does he do after work? What does he do on vacation? What are his interests outside the farm? What’s his/her family life like? Hobbies? Interests?

Here we are back to the beginning of this essay. What do Joinville, a kangaroo, a bike, and waterfalls have to do with California rice?


Well, actually everything. I’m the rice farmer interested in those things. I’m the person, who happens to be a rice farmer, who happens to be a YouTuber, who happens to be an agvocate, and who, by happenstance, is interested in all those things.

When I do a video about history or tomfoolery in a mall or highlighting a trip, it brings in an audience who is interested in those particular things. They’re not there for the rice. They don’t even know they’re interested in rice yet. They haven’t yet thought to learn about rice.

So they watch the video, hopefully they’re entertained and moreover engaged. They want to watch the next video…and the next, until they happen upon a video titled “How Rice is Harvested”. They see something new and they begin to learn.

They begin to learn about rice production akin to my 10 month old who is learning two languages, English and Portuguese, and she doesn’t even know it. They’re watching a video about rice and it’s so entertaining, they don’t realize that they’re actually learning about an agricultural production process. And it’s interesting because it’s entertaining. It’s entertaining because it’s interesting. And they’re learning about something that they never before had the inclination to search on Google. Even though they eat rice 5 times a week, they’ve yet to think: Where did this come from? Whose hands are behind this?

It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite HBO shows, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom:

I miss encyclopedias. I always wanted to have a full set of encyclopedias. You know, pull down S off the shelf, flip to a page, read about, I don’t know, Salic Law and why a woman can’t inherit the French throne.

You can google it.

That’s my point, you have to know what you’re looking for. You can’t browse for anything anymore.

The takeaway is that you can indirectly expose someone to your mission by sharing in an interest of theirs. And these topics can be anything because everyone is interested in something. Flip open the proverbial encyclopedia and show interest in a topic. Share that interest with those who have the same inclinations.

Take the thought processes of a rhetorical viewer, someone who loves his city, who loves Joinville:

Wow, cool video. If he’s interested in our city here in the south of Brazil–if he’s interested in having fun with his family in a mall, just like me–if he, like me, enjoys traveling to new places and we’ve been to some of the same places–what else is he interested in? Oh! He’s a rice farmer. That’s interesting.

And bam he/she’s learning about something that he/she otherwise would never have thought to google.

Maybe this is all a bit wordy; it’s because I’m not a professional agvocate. However, there’s this guy, Vance Crowe, the Director of Millennial Engagement at Monsanto, who is like a secret agent of the agvocate community in that he doesn’t come from a farming background, but he connects and inspires us to agvocate more often and more effectively.

Here’s how Crowe phrases this sentiment in a speech he gave in front of several agvocates at this year’s AgChat Cultivate and Connect Conference:

This leads me to the deepest point that I could try to make to a group of people that I know are much, much better at spreading ideas, making memes, making drone videos, getting out podcasts. Because I have to implore you that we need explorers. We need people that can stretch out onto the farthest reaches of networks, far far away from agriculture and become embedded with them. Understand their tribes, become true ambassadors.

It is easy for us to say, we have to tell our stories, right? But we need to find people to tell them to. But before we can find people to tell them to, we need to go and show people that we are curious about what’s going on in their lives.

I was unable to attend the Cultivate and Connect Conference because I was in Brazil riding that mechanical plush kangaroo inside the shopping mall.

When I finally found an audio recording of Crowe’s speech an amazing thing was happening with Rice Farming TV here in Brazil.

My “This is Joinville, Brazil!” episode had just been uploaded and was going mini-viral within the city. The residents were impressed with my interest in their city’s history and the overall positivity of the video. It reached more than 10,000 views within the first two days. With thousands of likes and hundreds of shares and comments on the Facebook post the video attracted a new audience. My channel received a new audience. California rice received a new audience.

I’m listening to Crowe’s 40 minute speech on my laptop. I’ve got my usual web browser tabs open: my e-mail, Facebook and YouTube. As I’m being inspired by Crowe’s insights, I’m browsing through new messages posted to my “This is Joinville, Brazil!” video. A resident of Joinville submits a new comment on Facebook:

But they plant rice in California?

I reply and a thread starts. Another resident of the city is happy to confirm that yes, as far as he knows, rice is in fact grown in California. A discussion starts as to the differences in growing conditions between here and there. Another resident recommends watching the other videos on the Rice Farming TV YouTube Channel, mentioning that there are videos that show and explain the growing/harvesting process of rice in California.

I’m listening to Crowe, and I’m reading these comments as they come in.

On YouTube someone writes:

I am really happy that I discovered your channel through your Joinville video. Thank you! Regards from Fraiburgo, Santa Catarina.

The comment isn’t even posted to the “This is Joinville, Brazil!” video. It’s posted on Episode 4: “Rice Experiment Station Field Day!” (uploaded 4 months prior).

Then I get an e-mail:

Hi Matt, Andrés here! I am Argentinian married with a Joinvilense. She passed me a link with your video about Joinville. I really enjoyed it, as well as all videos uploaded on your YouTube channel. Your video quality in content and aesthetics made me subscribe to your channel. If you had asked me, I would never have thought that someday I’ll follow a rice farmer in Northern California riding his bike with a Schornstein Bier T-shirt 🙂

It’s happening. What Crowe is explaining and suggesting about reaching out, showing interest in others so that they in turn will show interest in you…it’s happening to an impressive extent right before my eyes.

Then I get a private Facebook message. It’s from A Notícia, the main newspaper of Joinville, serving a population of over 600,000 people. They’ve seen the video too; they’ve seen how it’s spreading like wildfire among their readership, and they want to do an interview.

So I did, and the story’s lead-in made the cover of the paper. If you want you can read the translated article here: “Californian in Love with Joinville Records City Scenes on Video”. It’s a nice piece of journalism.

The article takes the “This in Joinville, Brazil!” episode to the next level. Their Facebook post received nearly 1,500 likes, hundreds of shares and drove more traffic to Rice Farming TV adding thousands more views to the video.

So here’s the thing. The big conclusion. You can agvocate without agvocating. Whenever you create content outside of farming that interests you, you are indirectly agvocating because you’re the farmer creating the content.

It’s a beautiful thing and you know, it wasn’t premeditated. This was not a calculated social media SEO targeting. This is all retrospect. This is a recounting of a series of events.

I made a video with love and respect, and I got nothing but love and respect back. I tried to thank every person who commented on the videos that I uploaded during this vacation, and I wish I could do more. I suppose the only thing I can do and will do, is keep producing content with love and respect.  

So that’s my reasoning for doing 5 videos in a row that have little or nothing to do with California rice. No one has complained. I haven’t lost subscribers. I’m writing this, perhaps as a preemptive response to a possible complaint. More importantly I hope it serves as inspiration to others in the way that Vance Crowe inspired me by reinforcing the validity of uploading content that is not strictly about my farming operation.

Thank you to the people of Joinville.

Thank you to my subscribers and for all your support.

Thank you to Vance Crowe.

Thank you to the California Rice Commission who have shared every single one of my vacation-non-california-rice-related videos throughout their social networks.  

Finally, thank you for reading this. Now let’s create.