Helping consumers and our customers understand agriculture is vital to the future of the industry and the high-quality, affordable food Americans enjoy.

How do farmers help their customers understand their profession?

It begins with the commitment to tell your side of the story whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself. Whether farmers talk to grade-schoolers, members of service clubs, fellow church members or state legislators ó practice the art of relationship building between rural and urban, between farmer/stockmen and consumers of agricultural products.

The holiday season also is a perfect time to tell others about the farm and ranch story. Whether we know it or not, today, many consumers are one, two or three generations removed from the farm. But just about everyone has a lawn, garden, flowers, plants or shrubbery. These same consumers enjoy, and some cherish, their ties to a father, grandfather or great-grandfather who tilled the soil.

Todayís foodies have a strong desire to know how their food is grown. Many of them want to meet and know the people who are furnishing their families with the food they eat.

How do you initiate a conversation about farming?

Itís easy to find common ground with urban cousins. Begin by noting that the fertilizer they buy for their garden or lawn is no different from what you, as a farmer, put on your crops. The rose dust, herbicide or insecticide used to control scab, dandelions or mosquitoes is similar to the plant protection you use.

Sometimes the common denominator revolves around nutrition. A good analogy could be the parallel between a personís need for healthy food and a plantís need for a well-balanced diet.

Itís easy to move from nutrition to some of the more difficult challenges facing agriculture.

One such hot topic is groundwater contamination. Today, many people are concerned about chemical runoff into lakes and streams.

As a farmer/stockman, you cannot afford to overuse these expensive crop inputs. Let them know that. More than anyone else, you are concerned about the land where you and your family live and work. Tell them your family members also eat the same food they eat, and you wouldnít dream of endangering your loved ones.

Public understanding of how a modern farmer manages his operation is only half the challenge. Perhaps equally important is the need to be sensitive to the concerns of the community. Listen to what they have to say. Hear them out and also talk to them about your continuing commitment to ensuring you grow the healthiest food possible.

Remember that people ó most of them living in towns or cities ó are the ones who call for regulations and new laws. It is this same public that will enforce them. In the end, ironically, it is the public that will suffer if the laws have a negative effect on our food production and consumption system.

John Schlageck is a Kansas agriculture commentator.