Stuck On A Plane With My New Boss.
Sometimes you get the whole row on the plane to yourself…other times you wind up sitting next to your new boss. If you’re me you are in the latter category, because life is a fickle, fickle thing.
Did I mention that due to a computer software issue the plane will also be stuck on the tarmac for an extra 50 minutes or so?
Did I also mention that the rest of the new management team is here, too? She’s across the aisle with her two young daughters.
Recap: I am stuck on a plane with my new boss AND my other new boss and her two young daughters.
These bosses happen to be younger than me, maybe a little more savvy than me when it comes to business and brand names and such, and one of them just moved back into the area so he’s trying to get the lay of the land. Part of me is really hoping he’s going to be too into his issue of Rolling Stone and that she is going to be too preoccupied with her daughters to even notice I am here, but part of me is thinking that this would be a great opportunity to make a great impression-as long as I don’t do anything to make things awkward. Things seem to be going pretty well until the flight attendant comes back with my cow because she was taking pictures of it with the pilot in the cockpit. Yes. That’s right-my cow. (no, you cannot make this stuff up)
Apparently my new bosses didn’t realize I carry a cow with me and I like to think that they were intrigued as opposed to being completely astonished and/or perplexed. Of course it’s not a real cow, that would be ridiculous, and that is exactly what I tell them and I further clarify the murky situation with, “I travel with a little pretend cow because I can’t bring my real ones with me.”
…Because that explains everything, right?
So, this is off to a great start…
Let’s pause for a moment and let me tell you what I know about my new bosses:
They were born in the 1980s and 1990s. They are just 2 of about 80 million other folks that were born around the same time as them and share some commonalities:
42% of them don’t trust large food companies*
76% of them buy local foods*
81% are willing to pay more to for food that promises a health benefit* (they like to read labels and packages-and they read the the packages of the food flight attendants were tossing us to keep us all happy while we were trapped in that steel tube)
They will outnumber the “Baby Boomers” by 22 million in 2030*
They read Rolling Stone
How do I know all this? Because I did my homework and did my research. It’s kinda my job to know who my bosses are, what they want and what they expect.
I’m not sure if they’ve done any research about me. Quite frankly I can only imagine what they’ve heard about me and from whom, and I am pretty certain that I am not what they expected. So before things get any more awkward than they already are I come right out and tell them, “I’m a dairy farmer.” It had to be said. How were they supposed to know? Just because I have a cow in my carryon? This is when the whole interview process really gets started. You would have thought that this had all been done before since I thought I was already hired and all, but really, this is the first time they’ve met me and their first chance to get to know me.
We cover the basics about where I am from, how I got started, and how I got to where I am (meaning being a dairy farmer and not how I ended up in seat 11A). I gave them the really short version (the somewhat longer, but not too long version is here).
So after a brief tale about who I am, how I got here and why I love what I do the whole interview turned into more conversation than inquisition. Pretty soon the topics became more about my way of life rather than the whole business thing. The questions they asked were about the cows, the farm, the milk, the cheese, and all the parts and pieces that fit together to get milk from farm to table. By the time the plane was fixed and ready to taxi down the runway the interview/conversation was over. They knew my name, where I lived, how many cows were on our farm and they even knew how many family members and my favourite cheese (I will give you a hint: It’s the World’s Best Cheddar). They asked every question that they didn’t even know they wanted to ask:
What does grass fed mean?
What about raw milk?
What does a cow eat?
How exactly do you get the milk out of them?
Are your cows healthy?
..and so on and so forth…
And then they asked the questions I was dying to answer:
“How can I buy milk from your farm? I want to buy milk from someone I know.”
To which my new boss immediately tapped the answers into his smartphone so when he got back home he could make sure he was putting the food from our farm and farmers I knew on his family’s table.
All before the plane even took off.
Here’s the thing: the best part about a captive audience is not actually being the captive audience. Seats 11C and 11D,E&F may have been my new bosses but they were the captive audience. They are the ones who wanted the information I had and I was more than happy to share it with them. I didn’t need to lecture them; I didn’t need to educate them, and I certainly didn’t need to disrespect their curiosity. (As a matter of fact I may have fed it a little.) I didn’t get hung up on the fact that they are pretty much in control of the success of my family’s farm, regardless of how hard we work and whether or not they truly understand what goes in to getting food from our field and barns to their table. The plain and simple truth is that the only reason our way of life is the way we are able to make our living is because our new bosses like us and want what we produce.
I’m a dairy farmer and the folks in row 11 on Southwest Fl#2609 are your basic millennial consumer. They ARE agriculture’s new boss, and like it or not they are here to stay and they are technically in control of what they choose to buy and what they choose to NOT buy. But here’s the often overlooked fact: more than anything they want to know from whom their food comes from. It’s not that hard. It’s not degrading, submissive or even that time consuming and it’s worth it. Before a salesman gets the time of day from any of us on the farm you can be certain that they have been interviewed, talked about, sized up, looked up, looked down and judgement passed upon them before they even get to the part where they give you a quote. And that’s just for supplies, fuel, seed and machinery…one can only expect that the same sort of effort and interest would be involved with choosing from whom to buy food to feed your family.
And if you don’t think it’s worth your time, or if you don’t like the idea of consumers thinking they have the right to question and demand what they want to buy with their hard earned dollars then maybe you need to be reminded that farmers are consumers too. Hell, a lot of farmers are actually millennials. More importantly, just like anybody else we farmers want what we want. When it comes to paying for something with our hard earned money we farmers damn sure want it to meet our needs and our standards. We can hem and haw all we want about who is telling who what to do what, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Sometimes you’re the goose and sometimes you are the gander. And if you don’t recognize which role you are in then you are going to end up with situations like Boulder County, CO. (Even if you’re a commodity farmer and you don’t think you have to deal with the consumer, or with millennials, or with your “new boss” and you just assume let them learn a lesson from “biting the hand that feeds them”). Fact is, our new boss is just as stubborn and demanding as we are and we either have to give them what they want or make damn sure they know that what we have to offer is truly what they want. Somewhere in the middle is the answer, and the answer isn’t going to happen without a conversation…I will let you all decide who is the boss.
Long story short:
I thought I got stuck on a plane with my new bosses and in reality they got stuck on a plane with me.
P.S. I think I got the job. I may have even earned a promotion.
* The data and statistics were sourced from Successful Farming Magazine Mid-February Issue’s Cover story “Meet Your New Boss”
Full Disclosure: This was not my first “interview”. One of my first was in Washington D.C. in 2014.