Television personality and fourth-generation rancher Courtenay DeHoff is passionate about agriculture, but she had to learn how to share that passion with a broader audience.
Growing up in Kansas, agriculture was all she knew until she went to Oklahoma State University on a rodeo scholarship. Majoring in agricultural communications, she did an internship at a local television station and was hooked.
After graduating, she went to work for a rural cable network in Nashville — and hated it. After a year, she he quit the job and “quit agriculture,” she said during Rabo AgriFinance’s Women in Ag virtual conference on Wednesday.
She knew she’d have to branch out if she was going to have the career she wanted with a national network. She got that big job in Dallas, but she couldn’t ignore her roots.
Four years ago when fires devastated ranchers in the Midwest and ranchers from other areas were quick to donate hay and money, she pitched the story to her editor. She was told agriculture is too small, no one is interested.
So she did her own newscast and posted it to her Facebook page. Overnight, she had more than 1 million hits. Now, the self-labeled “Fancy Lady Cowgirl” works to help bridge the gap between urban and rural communities through multiple platforms.
And she wants to help other women speak out for agriculture.
“Being an advocate, being a voice for agriculture is hard,” she said.
To be effective, it takes courage, compassion and connection, she said.
Advocates first need the courage to overcome the “imposter syndrome” of not understanding all segments of the industry even though they grew up in it, she said.
“You’re not going to have all the answers; you just have to have a little courage,” she said.
Advocating to one another in the industry doesn’t do any good. The key is reaching out to urban brethren, she said.
Another key is having compassion for people who have different views, look different, live elsewhere and love something different than people in agriculture. It also takes self-compassion for not being perfect, she said.
Advocates need to form connections with like-minded people also sharing the story for guidance and support, she said.
There are many ways to advocate, whether it’s through social media, one-on-one, having schoolchildren out to the farm, offering free tractor rides, wearing a farm hat that sparks a conversation or talking with people in the grocery store or airport, she said.
“You have to find what’s comfortable for you,” she said.
She warns against making advocacy a lesson, however. People connect to people, and they don’t respond to facts, having information shoved down their throats or being berated for what they don’t know, she said.
“At the end of the day, advocacy is all about creating a conversation,” and people will learn through conversation, she said
“When it comes to being a great voice for agriculture … if you touch one person, you are advocating,” she said.