"More than a reality show - Reality itself"
All of us have some kind of a picture about the world that surrounds us. A major role in its formation is played by the place where we live, the feelings, experiences we got during our life. It is not any different, when we are thinking or talking about the countryside, about agriculture: everybody echoes his or her own observations.
For an agricultural and rural development organization, the way average people think about agriculture must not be indifferent. The own experiences of the Agricultural and Rural Youth Association - AGRYA (Hungary) show that in general, the society has a very strange and contradictory picture about the Hungarian countryside. On one hand, the picture is idyllic: cheerful, chubby men mowing the fields, they eat, drink well and live their happy lives without anything to care about. The other picture is less favourable for farmers. According to it, farmers receive a lot of money, subsidies, which they use to buy useless and expensive things, and go everywhere with off-road vehicles. Those who are actually farmers know that none of these approaches is true: the farmer's life is at least as complicated, difficult and risky, as any other entrepreneur’s. Although it would be nice if an average person – but let’s call him or her a consumer and taxpayer – would really know how contemporary Hungarian agriculture looks like and how it is integrated into the framework of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.
Because of the above, AGRYA has consciously begun to transform its communication activity in the recent years. Besides professional communication, a simple way of communication for the general public was also introduced.
After a certain age, when one is an elder, people do not change; one's way of thinking is fixed. So if we want to alter this attitude, the relationship to farmers and farming, then we have to start it with the young generation. Perhaps there is still a chance with them that they will accept new information and new approaches. In addition, a group of young people, especially some young adults are particularly interested in food production and food quality. This group lives more consciously, its members plan their lives, take care of their lifestyles, nutrition, and can buy better quality food. However, this group typically consists of urban intellectuals who do not have direct contact with agriculture. They get their informations about it mainly from the Internet, and are influenced by the alter-globalization and green movements. However, these informations are rather trying to adapt the problems of the American and Asian agricultural production method into the European agriculture, which works differently. Because of this, the European reality and the critical remarks are only partially overlapping as there are much smaller problems with the sustainability of the European agricultural production, then for example with the agriculture of the U.S., or with the destruction of nature that is happening in South America.
One of the most effective ways of the transmission of information, is when real experience is related to it, so if a personal relationship is established. In addition, people are genuinely curious; they always want to peep behind the curtain. So if you want to call the attention to something, you can surely rely on curiosity.
AGRYA’s Rural Adventures Program, which is a not very complicated communication project, came to life according to the aforesaid observations. The basic idea was that young farmers should host urban young people – not as guests, but as workers. Thus, during a week spent with working, participants can glimpse into the operation of a farm and the daily life of a farming family too, because young people lived together with the young farmer's family. This way, the program ensured both providing information about agricultural production and experiencing the lifestyle of farmers. The aim was to let the participants see the human, the producer and his ot her knowledge and responsibility, behind the food. The participants were selected through a tender. The experiences of the participants were published on the Program's individual website as blogs.
The Rural Adventures Program was undoubtedly successful. The experiences of the participants, were not only available on the Internet, but also in the classical print and electronic media. This showed that the media is open to rural-agricultural news and informations. However, this also assumes that the information for the media should be passed in a consumable way. The Rural Adventures Program did so, as it was similar to a reality show. The difference was that the Rural Adventures Program was not directed; it was not planned by anyone, it showed reality, the real life of the farmers itself. That is why we think it was more than a reality show...
It is time for adventure! – Execution of the program
The management of the Rural Adventures Program meant a complex task for the AGRYA staff. During the organization, we had particular focus on giving the opportunity for those urban young people who were motivated, and also to ensure them an appropriate, safe and such an environment that provides a great experience at the young farmers. The program’s schedule was the following:
Phase I. - Publication
We published a tender for urban young people to participate. The call for applications included the exact terms, and made it clear that participants have to do physical work without any salary. We managed to publicise the call in a wide circle through our press contacts. Thus, the program appeared in various newspapers, news, public radio and television shows and in the morning show of a music radiostation. According to the participants' feedback, the most effective of these appearances were the ones in the public radio’s reports and in the music radio.
The promotion of the program involved a green organization, and its information network worked with high effectiveness.
One-minute short films were made about the hosting young farmers. These films are available and can be downloaded from the Program’s website.
The program has started its own website at www.videk-kaland.hu.
Phase II. - The selection
Every candidate was personally interviewed by the workers of AGRYA and its partner. During the three days of the "casting", employees of AGRYA asked 70 applicants mostly about their motivations and current activities. Furthermore, it was also discussed, how candidates would utilize the obtained information and how to spread it among his contemporaries. In connection with this, the candidates were specifically warned that they have to individually describe their experiences in an Internet blog and be available for the media at any time in case reporters visit them during the time they spend at the young farmer.
Among the candidates, there were several psychologists, architects, lawyers, geographers, teachers, economists, interpreters and even painters and theorists. Candidates were typically young people who studied in higher education, were doing intellectual job, who approached agriculture specifically with sympathy and interest.
It was surprising that 2/3 of both the candidates and later the selected participants were females. From this we got the conclusion that girls are more adventurous, open-minded and diligent. It was a surprise that many of the candidates had no driving license, and were following a vegetarian diet. We chose participants from these groups as well, but later on it was not easy to feed them.
Phase III. - The survey
The selected participants had to complete a very detailed questionnaire, in order to better understand the circumstances that might cause problems later on. Thus questions were asked about their state of health, diseases, nutrition, and specific real-life situations which may derive from their religion . The goal was to minimize any "surprises" for the host farmermay face during the stay of the young visitor .
Phase IV. - The training
Most of the selected participants have never seen a large animal (for example a cow) from close range; or have never driven a tractor, have never been to a family farm. We found it important, that even before the program starts ‘for real’, participants should get some insight to the operation of a farm. It should turn out that - for example - someone is afraid from the animals.
During the training, participants had a chance to try out tractor driving, and they were shown around a livestock farm.
In addition, they have listened to a lecture about the health, safety, fire protection and environmental issues. This was a prerequisite of performing any work in a farm.
The press was invited for the training as well. As a result of this, three different TV news channels covered the official start of the program.
Phase V. - Visits
Between 1 July and 25 August 2011 the visits at the young farmers took place. During this period, there was an adventurer somewhere every week. This helped to organize constant media presence, so the program always appeared somewhere in the media, in print or electronic form. The amount of the media's interest was surprisingly big. In should be emphasized that, the program appeared in non-agricultural media as well, including women's magazines. This is a significant achievement, concerning the topic.
Phase VI. – The website
For the official website of the Program, participants steadily filled their reports on their experiences. The program’s social network page on Facebook was started as well.
Phase VII. - Final meeting
In September 2011, all the young participants and host farmers gathered. During the meeting, they evaluated the program’s results with different training methods and made suggestions for further continuation.