Oli Le Lievre is a young man on a mission. Each night, he dives straight into his passion project; finding and broadcasting fascinating stories of people in agriculture. He’s just clocked 120 stories on his Instagram and podcast: Humans of Agriculture, and he says our industry needs to get better at telling its story… lest somebody else tells it first.
You might have heard of Humans of New York.
If you haven’t, google it. It started a decade ago with one man’s vision to photograph 10,000 everyday New Yorkers on the street. Alongside their portraits, he placed quotes or short stories about their lives. Today, it’s an enormously popular depiction of the colourful and diverse range of living in the Big Apple.
Why am I telling you about pictures of New Yorkers? Imagine the same initiative but centred around agriculture, and instead of photographs think podcasts. Sure, 10,000 is a lofty goal but Oli Le Lievre is well on his way.
"With 10,000 stories you get a much broader perspective of what influence agriculture really has,” the interviewee reflects.
The city boy turned ag enthusiast says he has been surprised by how little confidence some people have in sharing their story about what they do in agriculture.
“When I reach out to someone for a possible interview [for podcast or blog] , I often hear back ‘I don’t have a story’ or ‘I don’t feel comfortable talking about what I do’. The thing is, everyone has a story and they’re all unique, and it paints the picture of our vast industry. It doesn’t need to be a monologue, but we have to communicate as people and as an industry or someone else will do the talking for us.”
Oli started taking photos for Humans of Agriculture, a la Humans of New York, but not long after he migrated to podcasts. He wanted to get better at listening and at asking incisive questions. Plus, he found people who might say no to a coffee with him would be more likely to say yes to a podcast where they were able to get something in exchange for their time.
“I wanted to delve deeper into topical issues and podcasts allow that. One of the conversations I will have this year is around live export; having a Q&A with young people in the industry, asking the questions everyone dances around, putting those topics on the table.”
The interviews are raw and unedited, and it feels a little like you’re eavesdropping on a casual but important conversation. The lack of post-production work is a stylistic choice as much as it is an operational decision for the time-poor ag consultant.
Oli fell in love with farming through his extended family in Western Victoria; as a child he’d eagerly head there from his home in Sydney on school holidays. Those visits solidified his calling.
“I was given my first ‘paid’ position mustering and drenching sheep at the age of 12 by a now long-time mentor and friend.”
“I still have aspirations of being a farmer, but in the meantime there’s so much opportunity and it’s so exciting to be involved in other ways.”
Into his second year of podcasts, and around 9880 to go, we asked Oli to nominate his top five dream guests.
At the top of the list are Bill and Melinda Gates, the billionaires working to increase agricultural productivity for smallholder farmers.
Domestically he’s aspiring to chat with Alison Watkins, a passionate farmer who also is the CEO of CocaCola Amatil.
More obscure is his choice of Howard-Yana Shapiro, the man who gene-mapped the cacoa (chocolate) plant. He is the former chief ag officer of Mars and is on a mission to make crops more nutritious and drought resistant.
Jack Cowin, founder of Hungry Jacks, is on the wish list too.
“It would be really interesting to talk to Jack Cowin about the way fast food has changed and the shifting demand of consumers...and why the burgers are better!”
“Those people would be great to interview, but really, I’m interested in people at the grass-roots level. Those everyday people who are members of our communities. Some of the most unassuming people have the most amazing stories,” he said.
If you know someone with an interesting relationship with agriculture, no matter how obscure, let Oli know about them.
Humans of Agriculture is available on all good podcast platforms and on Instagram