By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director
What makes SFA’s farmer network unique? When you look over the landscape of sustainable agriculture today, there are many “farmer networks” in existence. What makes a network, and why is SFA’s network unique?
A network, as we are using the term here is defined as: “a group or system of interconnected people or things.”
Twenty-five years ago, at the founding of SFA, the idea of farmers networking together to solve the issues of sustainability was a relatively new concept. There were networks, of course, but many of these were bonded with the glue of political partisanship. Such networks are very effective navigating the politics of any issue, but really struggle to provide solutions for issues that cross political lines, and food and farming is one of those issues.
Today, SFA is a Farmer-to-Farmer-Network® organization and is really a network of farmers who work independently and interconnectedly to solve their own issues around sustainability as well as the broader issues of local foods, healthy communities and the sustainable agriculture movement in general. In other words, our network is designed to help individual farmers become more successful, as well as elevate the conversations around food and farming, bringing about a sustainable future across the board.
Building a professional network of clients and contacts for your business involves how you relate to people. Developing a professional network includes awareness of people who interact with your business, having a positive attitude about people, communicating effectively with people, and doing the things that build strong relationships.
The strength of any network is really found in the interactions of individuals to help build it. And you may be asking, “OK, how can I help build this network?” Here a list of things you can do within SFA that will help both you and the bigger sustainable agriculture picture:
- Be Aware. Opportunities are all around you, and yet if you are not aware of them, they may as well not exist. Reading SFA Connect is a great way to be aware.
- Have a helpful attitude. Being an effective networker isn’t just about what you do; it’s also about your attitude toward what you’re doing. Your attitude influences everything in your life — the goals you set, the risks you’re willing to take, the way you approach people, your willingness to approach people, the way you respond to people, and much more. Volunteering at your chapter and recording your volunteer hours is a great way to demonstrate helpfulness. It’s fun too! Your attitude not only affects what you do; it also affects the way people respond to you. Your attitude can create a barrier and turn people off, or it can communicate with people that you want people to interact with you.
- Hone your communication skills. Networking happens through conversation. After mastering the art of small talk, you will feel more comfortable meeting new people and developing rapport. By developing rapport with people, you will be able to turn small talk into opportunities to make requests and be a networking resource. Attend a chapter meeting, workshop or conference connected to SFA. You’ll have a chance to communicate with other like-minded farmers.
- Develop relationship-building habits. A network exists as a series of relationships and connections between people. People must relate with and respect one another in order for a valuable networking exchange to happen. Building relationships is your first priority when networking.
Editor’s Note: Adapted from “How to Build a Professional Network.” John Wiley & Sons, publishers. Accessed: March 23, 2015