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Shannon VanRaes is a Winnipeg-based journalist who covers agriculture and agribusiness.

It’s quite possibly the most cliché phrase heard in agricultural circles these days. Attend any producer meeting or commodity conference and you’ll hear an overpaid speaker urging farmers to “tell their story” in order to better engage urban audiences.

“City dwellers think milk comes from the grocery stores! Can you believe it! Urbanites don’t understand where food really comes from! Without us, cities would starve! You have a good story to tell! You just need to find common ground!”

But in between the go-to lines so often uttered in rural echo chambers, there is something less than genuine poking through, something that goes beyond city-mouse and country-mouse territory.

Because last week, a huge number of urbanites did seek common ground with farmers, albeit by flocking to a sunflower farm near Hamilton, Ont., clogging a highway and sometimes ignoring the instructions of on-site staff. To me, the story seemed a straightforward one of a farm business that woefully underestimated the allure of their luscious sunflowers.

After all, those that trekked to Bogle Seeds in Millgrove, Ont., didn’t come uninvited – the farm had advertised and was charging $7.50 a person for the chance to snap a few photos of the flowers.

“This is so maddening,” writes one Twitter user who has a family farm. “People have no respect for the countryside or farmers. ... People are awful.”

Johnny Zhuang, son Kimi, 3, and wife Apple Chi wander into a sunflower seed field at Bogle Seeds in Millgrove, Ont.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

None of those details, however, stopped the online vitriol that was levelled at those who visited the farm, particularly in agricultural forums and Twitter threads populated by producers. Online, it seems the photographers, families, tourists and selfie-seekers whos overwhelmed the farm were not an example of urban interest in farming, nor did they represent a teachable moment. Rather, they were a confirmation of every negative stereotype ever applied to those living within city limits.

Oblivious to the irony of using social media to condemn a “generation obsessed with social media,” this online outcry is surely not what the public relations experts who encourage farmers to “tell their story” had in mind.

Last summer, I was speaking to farmers in northern Manitoba when a man past retirement age approached me to say that he’d finally visited downtown Winnipeg and he was surprised to find he enjoyed the experience. I was shocked it would take more than six decades for someone to visit the capital of their own province, but, before I could say anything, other producers jumped in to say they hadn’t visited Winnipeg and weren’t planning to.

That didn’t stop them from having plenty of opinions on a city they didn’t want to engage with. From ideas about property taxes, crime and racialized communities (although that was not the terminology they used), there was no shortage of things they wanted to say about something they had no first-hand knowledge of.

The exchange reminded me of comments about agriculture I’ve so often heard from those who have never visited a farm and don’t know any farmers, although I didn’t point it out at the time.

And that is the unspoken crux of the communication breakdown between urban eaters and rural growers. Making fun of young people with selfie sticks is easy, but taking a hard look at your own biases and preconceived notions about others is difficult.

Canadian farmers seeking to better the relationship between themselves and a growing urban population need to do more with online platforms than point out the perceived shortcomings of millennials with a few keystrokes when a story about farming makes news.

And if they don’t, they’re facing a case of not being able to see the field for all the sunflowers.