“The misinformation among consumers really bothers me. Sometimes it keeps me up at night,” says Wendell Schumm of Wallenstein Feed & Supply. To the rural-to-urban disconnect and present his pro-commercial view of food issues, Wendell chose to do something proactive.
With no knowledge or experience about how to start a podcast but filled with a passion for food and farming, he went vocal and created the Ontario AgCast to share agricultural issues.
“I don’t know what kind of impact I will have, but at least I am trying,” says Wendell.
Podcasts are radio-style programs you can access on the internet. He and Mark Carter, Web Coordinator with the Grain Farmers of Ontario, shared their knowledge about creating podcasts with writers and other professionals at an Eastern Canada Farm Writer’s Association professional development event held at the Wallenstein feed mill November 20.
A tour of the feed mill was included, which, perhaps, was easier to traverse for those who have never ventured into the world of podcasts trying to understand the technical data presented.
However, Wendell felt the same way when he started Ontario AgCast in the spring of 2016. In fact, his first challenge was having the confidence to put his voice out there.
Wendell shares that although he grew up on a farm in Oxford County and had dreams of becoming a farmer, it didn’t quite happen.
“I always thought I would go home one day and milk cows,” says Wendell. However, once he graduated from Centralia College and worked off-farm, he had the opportunity to be part of Great Lakes Nutrition (GLN) in Monkton.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime but my struggle was if I chose that, I would never be a farmer,” says Wendell.
When he became vice-president of GLN he viewed himself differently. Instead of being a farmer, he was a businessman and part of the sector called ‘industry’. As such, he felt he didn’t have the right to be involved in discussions at the grassroot level.
“I felt like an imposter,” recalls Wendell.
In 2009, GLN became part of Wallenstein Feed & Supply and while Wendell was thrilled with the partnership, he became even more entrenched in the business world as the company’s Ruminant Division Manager.
“The more I became involved in business, the more I lost connection to the farm,” says Wendell.
So he started getting involved in the technology world and while he enjoyed it, the inner farm boy wanted a voice.
It finally erupted when a major life change caused Wendell to question everything in his life.
At the age of 38, being a runner and a committed kickboxer, he tore an artery, which caused the formation of a blood clot, which let loose, which caused a minor stroke.
“I lost the use of the right side of my body and it was my ‘come to Jesus moment’,” says Wendell. “Interestingly, the people who reached out to me and the people I realized I cared about, were all from agriculture.”
He began to question who he was, where he came from, the ‘whys’ of his decisions and what he wanted to do with his life.
Kickboxing? Yes. Despite warnings from his neurosurgeon and the concerns of his wife, he knew he had more to accomplish in the sport. He started to train harder and despite numerous black eyes (“I got beat up a lot!”), his dedication took him to the World Kickboxing Champion-ships where he won second in the middle-weight division.
“That taught me something huge. It taught me that if you worry what people think, it will be difficult for you to achieve some of your goals,” says Wendell.
Emboldened by his success and his renewed outlook on life, Wendell decided to pursue his other passion: agriculture.
Thrilled by the response of Andrew Campbell’s #farm365 movement on Twitter, Wendell decided to also share his voice via a blog.
However, writing wasn’t as easy as he anticipated.
Then he met Trent Loos of Loos Tales, a popular podcaster from Illinois. Wendell was transporting Trent from the airport to a meeting and they stopped for lunch. Trent chatted up the waitress and learned she was a vegan-non-GMO, Wican waitress. Her opinions made for intereting podcast material. Next, he interviewed Wendell while they were driving from Chesley to the airport.
“And you know, I didn’t hate my own voice!” jokes Wendell.
It got him thinking this was a way he could be a voice promoting agriculture by interviewing those in the agri-food community and beyond.
He bought a digital mike, downloaded the free podcast software Audacity, set up a makeshift sound studio (a cardboard box with a blanket over top) and started calling people saying “hey, do you want to be on a podcast?”
“Our first attempts were rough but we did it,” says Wendell.
As he interviewed scientists, farmers, students, news reporters and agri-food professionals, it became “easier and easier for me to put myself out there,” he says.
Sound quality was an issue with the earlier podcasts and he regrets not doing more research on equipment. However, he has that problem fixed and his list of speakers continues to grow.
Recently he featured:
• Janice Anderson on life balance and gender equality
•Dave McEachern on farming, fire-fighting, mental health and the stupidity of moldboard plows
•Aaron Law on how an engineer becomes a farmer
•Neil Carter on Arctic apples
“I’m active on Twitter and when I see anybody do something interesting, I contact them and chat with them,” explains Wendell on how he sources guests.
He doesn’t have thousands of followers yet but recently formed the Farm and Rural Ag Network to boost visibility. The Network is a place to share content and features other agricultural podcasts including Girls Talk Ag, The Shark Farmer Podcast, Future of Agriculture and The Farmer & The City Girl.
Ontario AgCast can also be found on SoundCloud and iTunes.
His audience does tend to be people in the industry and he recognizes he is largely preaching to the choir. “However, it does give the choir something to talk about,” he says. Not many youth tune in either.
Wendell suspects he isn’t extreme enough. “I don’t curse or say outrageous things,” he says.
While he doesn’t have huge numbers of views or subscribers yet, Wendell says even if nobody else listens (they do!), the podcasts are a “tremendous benefit” to him because of the people he meets and the connections he makes.
“I no longer feel like an outsider. I am part of that farming tribe,” he says.
Also important to him is that he’s taking an active stance to fight the misinformation out there in regards to agriculture.
“I think farmers do an amazing job and it is farmers who will advance us in food production and environmental protection,” says Wendell. He wants to help put their voices out there.
Wallenstein Feed & Supply owner, Rick Martin, supports the podcasts even though it isn’t directly affiliated with the feed mill.
“Rick encourages all of us to give back to the community whether that be through donations of money, time or creating a podcast to share stories,” says Wendell.
In terms of specifics, and the technological side of creating a podcast (taught at the event by Grain Farmers of Ontario IT guy, Mark Carter), Wendell admits it does take time.
“It takes me about an hour to edit 10 minutes of content,” admits Wendell. “I have to take out the ‘umms’ and ‘uhhs’ and the stupid stuff I say.”
He likes the podcasts to stay in the 30-40 minute range although some go longer. ◊