By Mallory Phelan 

Prior to working at Oregon Aglink, I took a one way flight to Peru. I worked in a hostel before finding a job teaching English at a local school. Having studied abroad in Mexico and been three credits shy of a second major in Spanish, I felt decently comfortable with communicating in Spanish.

While my verb conjugations could always use some work, I felt confident in my vocabulary until I asked a man at the market where the aguacates were – his expression and lack of response made me question my pronunciation. I started to describe the black outer layer, soft green inside with a pit and he said palta! Come to find out, some countries in South America use the word palta instead of aguacate for avocado.

If you’ve ever traveled to another English-speaking country, you understand this concept of the same language using different words depending on the country such as the Brits saying “rubbish” for trash or Aussies saying “brekky” for breakfast. You’ve probably even known of American English words that change depending on what part of our country you are from. Is a carbonated fountain drink a pop, soda, soda pop, or Coke? The first time I visited Kentucky, a server asked me what kind of Coke I wanted. Only seeing regular or diet on the menu, I didn’t even realize Coke was being used as the overarching term for all the flavors offered.

When we look at our relationships with friends and family, the use of certain language becomes our own sub-dialect of sorts. Whether it’s inside jokes with your friends or the way you and your partner can communicate unlike any others, our word choice matters.

We’re fairly good at deciphering what those close to us say and mean. Do you remember any words your kids used growing up that only you understood or maybe were slightly incorrect? A little girl I babysat called a popsicle, poppy-sicky-doo. Ultimately, we invest time and show compassion in understanding those we care about.

Consider the disconnect between farming, ranching, fishing, and forestry with those who consume the products produced by those industries. While consumers and producers sometimes use words like sustainability and diversity with different intentions, there are other words those of us working in these industries use that are unfamiliar to the general public. It’s something that happens in the Adopt a Farmer program. We remind farmers and ranchers to explain terms such as variable rate application or that artificial intelligence isn’t the only thing AI stands for – even seemingly simple words like perennial or concepts such as cover crops are unknown to most people. It’s not only middle school students we work with, but sometimes their chaperones and teachers are unfamiliar with common industry vernacular.

Our use of these words common to us, but uncommon to the general public, can hinder our communication and understanding of how farms, ranches, fisheries, and forests operate. This isn’t unique to agriculture – many other science-based industries have to learn to do this including medicine, technology, neuroscience, and more.

It benefits all of us to learn to speak with words digestible to consumers today.

Committing ourselves to knowing what consumers understand and how we can better explain our industry takes time and to do it well, compassion – just like we extend to our family and friends. Instead of defense, let’s play offense by engaging in conversations now, including our very best listening, to understand better language to use and find areas of common ground with those who do not understand what farmers, ranchers, fishers, and foresters do.