The self-proclaimed Farm Babe didn’t grow up on a farm, but that doesn’t stop her from telling the story of farming to anyone who wants to listen.
Michelle Miller, originally from Wisconsin, has been the full-time online Farm Babe for six and a half years as an agricultural advocate. She describes her journey to becoming the Farm Babe as funny. Miller spoke at the Animal Agriculture Alliance Virtual Stakeholder Summit on May 4.
“I was a 4-H kid, so my friends were farm kids even though I didn’t grow up on a farm,” she said. “They made me participate in 4-H and every day after school we did chores and ride horses, and life on the farm was something I really enjoyed as a teenager.
In high school, every aptitude test told her that she should be involved in agriculture – a farmer, vet, or working with animals to some extent.
“But like many other teenagers who grew up in a small town, I wanted to see what else was there,” she said. “So I moved to Los Angeles, graduated in fashion, and ended up working for Gucci on Rodeo Drive. “
She laughed, saying that if someone had told her that one day she would be raising cattle in the middle of nowhere, she would have been shocked.
“But now I like to joke that I went from Rodeo (Drive) to rodeo and my food fears have become favorite foods,” she said.
During his university studies in Los Angeles and later in Chicago, Miller was exposed to various films and inaccurate information regarding agriculture. Documentaries like Food, Inc., have distorted his point of view.
“I know some of you are probably shaking your heads because you realize that this film is not at all a faithful representation of the animal agriculture industry or agriculture in general for that matter. “she said. “But I really had fallen victim to these food myths.”
A personal trainer had told her to give up gluten if she wanted to lose weight. She had become an anti-genetically modified organism activist who ate only organic food.
“I was terrified of the food supply,” she said. “This movie made my cousin a vegetarian and it had a big influence on us that we were so far removed from farming.”
In a bar, one evening, she was “dredged up by a farmer”. She went out long distance with Doug, a farmer from Iowa, and then moved to Iowa to be with him on the farm.
“That was really when I started Farm Babe,” she said. “Because here was this guy who farmed thousands of acres of GMOs and had feedlots for cattle and used hormones and antibiotics and all that stuff that I thought was terrible. “
It was then that she learned how misinformed she was and that it was time to speak up.
“I went from that girl who was super terrified of her food to one of the biggest advocates of it and realizing that people don’t deserve to be lied to or misinformed,” said Miller. “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, however, remains attached to Farm Babe.
Miller believes the voices of farmers and ranchers can make a difference. When she started her page, she thought she would be happy with 1,000 likes and didn’t give it much thought. Now that he has around 200,000 subscribers, she sees the importance of it. Farm Babe got its name after being blocked and banned from Food Babe’s Facebook page within 5 seconds of commenting on a post.
“There is so much misinformation online where fear is such a popular way to sell a product,” Miller said. “Fear, misinformation, hyperbole, celebrities, these influencers who have a huge platform to scare people about food.”
She left a “very polite comment” on an article saying, “We grow GMOs on our farm, I promise you we will not flood our fields with chemicals. I would love to have a chat with you about this or invite you to the farm so they can know better, discuss what we do on our farms every day.
Rather than commit, Miller was banned and realized how insane the situation was.
“If the Food Babe doesn’t let the farmers talk about farming, I’m just going to be the Farm Babe,” she said. “So I started learning from experts like many of you – farmers, vets, animal welfare experts, everyone who works in our industry – that’s really who I started to give the word. “
As an activist, Miller found that people needed to step out of their comfort zone and realize that they could make a difference on some of the hot topics.
“We have people who care where their food comes from,” she said. “They want to make sure the animals are treated the best they can.”
Consumers want to know more about hormones and antibiotics, the environment, soil health, organic foods, pesticides and GMOs. They want to know more about labels because they are so confusing. The average person does not have the opportunity to speak to agricultural experts and does not always know the details of how their food is produced.
“Social media is the number one source for people who get their information,” Miller said. “A celebrity can make a video and reach tens of millions of people. We have blogger moms who trusted tribes, people listen to their friends on Facebook rather than their doctors.
It’s easy to listen to the trusted voices of this circle of friendship, video content, news feed, trending topics, and issues going viral. But what happens when this information is wrong? Miller shared some tips for disseminating information.
“Now we have to train our minds to think,” she said. “We can’t just read something at face value. We have to question everything because anyone can say whatever they want online.
Miller suggested digging into the author’s background in agriculture a bit. Google the author 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, it could be an activist and an agenda. On the other hand, when the author is a professor of animal science, they are “probably quite credible”.
“Anything else, are they selling something?” ” she said. “Fear is a popular way to sell. “
Click on the bait stories saying everything is trying to kill you unless you buy their product. Or share “studies” that show certain information to support their claims.
“Are they sharing the study? Is this 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 are having trouble with their Apple cell phone, they call Apple. If they have any issues with their Ford truck, they call Ford, Miller said.
“If they have a question about animal agriculture, they should contact animal agriculture experts,” she said. “You have the credible voice to make a difference. “
Miller believes that when people in the agricultural industry come together, mountains can be moved.
“There are a lot of things that we cannot control properly. We cannot control the market price. We can’t control the weather, ”she said. “There are a lot of things we can’t control, but we can control perception. “
She thanked those who work in acres, not hours and for all who support agriculture, inside and outside the industry.
“We really thank you, because we have to come together and together we can make a difference,” she said.