In my time doing interviews with farmers in Australia, Nova Scotia and the Falklands I have probably consumed a few hundred cups of tea. Now I’m a coffee gal, generally, but it feels social to sit with a cuppa over an interview, and I like how it structures the interaction. There are clearer rules for having tea than there are for conducting interviews – particularly being the ‘subject’ of one. In fact, the protocols that do exist for interviews I don’t like, being too formal and seeming to frame the interviewer as the expert. When you accept a cup of tea, the farmer as host takes control of the proceedings, and as guest I become a grateful recipient of hospitality as well as their expertise.
Earlier this year, Simon and Mhari and I were brainstorming how to inspire a high response rate for a survey of a small farmer population (~n=225), that had to be a single mail-out for time reasons. Simon suggested including a teabag. So off we went. Boxes of English Breakfast were purchased and individually packaged envelopes included with each survey. We hoped farmers would come back from the barn after morning chores and do the short survey over a cuppa. Well, we’re just short of 12% completion rate so far, with only a trickle now coming in. Though we have had some sweet notes about the tea (see above), I think we can confidently say that tea is not enough of a incentive. Does this indicate a cultural change to coffee among farmers? Maybe a K-cup would have been a better idea. But it was worth a try.