Consumers want to hear from you. When asked whom they considered the most trustworthy sources of information about their food, farmers and ranchers topped the list.

Research also shows that consumers trust people who seem to be like themselves, so putting a human face and a relatable story together with the message is crucial.

The question is: How do beef producers get their faces and stories in front of every consumer in the country?

One way to start, brought to you by NCBA and the checkoff, is the new Masters of Beef Advocacy course, which was launched in March. Its purpose is to arm beef producers and industry allies with facts about beef production so they are ready anytime to explain their work to consumers with confidence.

Here’s an example: One graduate gave a presentation based on an idea he got in the nutrition class. In the nutrition portion of the MBA program, he’d learned about the crucial health benefits to aging consumers of eating protein, so he was inspired to call a nursing home and tell them what he knew.

Daren Williams, NCBA’s executive director of communications, said the MBA program was inspired by a need for exactly that kind of grassroots action.

MBA candidates have to complete six hour-long courses: modern beef production, animal care, beef safety, beef nutrition, environmental stewardship and the Beef Checkoff. Afterward, each candidate is invited to attend a full-day “final exam/graduation” ceremony to hone his or her skills in online advocacy, public speaking and working with the media. The program’s first graduating class was recognized at the end of March in Manhattan, Kan.; these graduation events will be scheduled periodically in different regions, as well as at each year’s NCBA convention.

After graduation, the real work begins. MBA graduates are encouraged to be advocates at every opportunity. This might mean talking to neighbors about beef production, giving presentations in schools or to local organizations, posting comments on Web sites or participating in media interviews. In other words, letting your consumers hear from you.

More than 400 people have already enrolled in the program. The majority of them are beef producers, but there are also a good number of veterinarians, restaurant owners, chefs and even one former U.S. Senator from Montana (Conrad Burns).

 So far about 40 people have graduated, and they’ve already had their first action alert. On Earth Day, graduates were called upon to write letters to newspaper editors and post comments about online stories to correct misinformation and to spread a positive message about agriculture’s relationship to the environment.           

Graduates are also invited to join the MBA’s private social networking site, where they can share their experiences, advice and successes.

You hear it frequently: Agriculture has a story to tell. This is, as Williams says, a chance to reclaim your legacy. 

You can register for the MBA program by sending an e-mail to MBA@beef.org,