Providing context from a trusted source, like a veterinarian, is critical to squashing myths before they start.

Dr. Bramlage notes both the equine and beef industries suffer from similar misunderstandings in the rural population. The AAEP On Call program is a larger stage for what many veterinarians can do in their own backyards, and the best place he recommends to start is with kids.

“Occasionally there will be opportunities to do this in our daily lives,” Dr. Bramlage says. “One opportunity is with elementary school children. Elementary school teachers are caring people, but those teachers are often unequipped to deliver the message.”

In addition to in-person talks, social media offers an opportunity to take the discussion beyond geographical boundaries, says Kathy Swift, DVM, Gainesville, Fla., whose Twitter account (@CowArtAndMore) has more than 11,500 followers.

Twitter is an online social networking service where users send short posts, or “tweets,” and can connect with others that have a similar interest.

“I didn’t join Twitter with the idea that I would talk to consumers about where their food came from,” Dr. Swift says. “Twitter is basically the world’s largest cocktail party. It’s really no different than if you go to a social function and actively make it a point to seek out different people to talk to.”

While Dr. Swift didn’t start her social media presence with an educational ideal in mind, Twitter and other social media channels have allowed people in urban environments that care about food, and how that food is produced, to connect with all kinds of producers.

One of the largest agricultural communities making this connection is AgChat (agchat.org), and Dr. Swift now serves on the AgChat Foundation board of directors. AgChat is a weekly moderated chat that began on Twitter and serves as a virtual meeting place for people in agriculture and those who want to learn more about the industry.

Dr. Swift encourages other veterinarians to join in the social media discussion. Even though it may seem daunting, she recommends a few simple steps to ease the transition.

First, pick one platform, like Facebook or Twitter, and get a buddy who’s already using the service to help. Next, follow some veterans for examples of how it’s done. Dr. Swift recommends @JPLovesCotton on Twitter or Pioneer Woman’s blog (ThePioneerWoman.com).

Even in the virtual realm, Dr. Swift says being a veterinarian lends credence to her points, although she is careful not to let the many ways food is produced—from organic to natural to conventional—become a sticking point in the discussion.

“I have taken the approach that I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus,” Dr. Swift notes. “Everyone is working hard to produce a quality product, and some folks on Twitter feel strongly about their production methods. If I’m in a conversation with someone, I try to stick with the facts.”

Keeping with the facts is a policy she tries to keep whether at a real cocktail party or in the Twitter universe.

“One thing I don’t care for with social media, is that because people aren’t face to face, they feel they can say stuff and act in a way that they wouldn’t if we were in the same room together,” she says.

Largely, this isn’t a problem, especially when participating in AgChat as there are so many experienced participants that can jump in to fend off bullies, Dr. Swift says.

However, she often receives questions about “pink slime” and antibiotic use. In addition, she takes a cue from mainstream media and posts factual responses to current headlines. For instance, the recent case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) found in a California dairy cow led her to take a proactive approach.

“I have not directly had any questions about BSE,” she says. “But, I’m going to try to put some good article links out there to help people understand they can drink their milk. I also would sometimes get questions about why you would feed antibiotics to healthy animals and food label questions about what ‘hormone free’ means. Most of the time, it’s whatever hot topic is in the mainstream media.”

While the breadth of questioning may seem daunting, one terrific aspect of social media is that it’s easy to connect questioners to other experts with just a few clicks.

“With something like the ‘pink slime,’ I can quickly connect them to someone else that has direct experience with that,” she says.