It’s a well-known fact that most people are between three and four generations removed from the farm. Farmers have become so efficient that less than 2% of the population can now feed the world. While that fact can be celebrated, it can also pose a problem for agriculture. Farmers have realized their improved efficiencies and the era of information overload has created a unique situation where they realize the need to reconnect with consumers. In addition, there is the deception of food labels, farmers realize they have a problem . . .
Consumers have lost their connection to the very people who raise their food.
Farmers are getting it. Consumer outreach events are one way farmers are reintroducing themselves back to consumers. During the past few years, farmers are starting to reach out to consumers and having a conversation. You see, it’s all about conversations, talking, relationships.
It’s always about conversations and having relationships and building trust.
I was privileged to have been involved in a couple different consumer outreach events. And I can honestly say, these type of outreach events are some of my most treasured experiences.
They were awesome . . .
Let’s look at the first event.
The “From the Ground Up” event was held at a local pig farmer’s family farm. This event was partly a celebration and acknowledgement of the strong agricultural roots of our county, hence the event name, “From the Ground Up.” We showcased the agriculture unique to our location by setting up commodity display tables (along with farmers who grew or raised the commodity) on the perimeter of the farmyard. Check out our “From the Ground Up” video!
But what was most important were the other two focused areas. 1) A fundraiser where profits would be split between a proposed community center and our three county FFA groups. 2) A social function for ag and non-ag community members to sit down with each other and talk. An event that allows us to reintroduce ourselves and start to build those relationships between agriculture and non-agriculture.
Sound pretty basic?
We are one community
We know that even though we live in a rural area, we have many local community members that are not familiar with agriculture and have never been on a modern farm. And because we are one community, relationships and trust is important for the well-being of our community.
Our guests were entertained with a social hour of beverages and appetizer, which was then followed up by a fabulous meal prepared by chef extraordinaire Seth Lintelman, owner of the Cup and Saucer of Sherburn, MN. Seth is a Martin County native. And I need to acknowledge the county’s FFA groups. They are amazing. I can’t say enough good things about the FFA and how professionally they conducted themselves. They literally gave me goosebumps.
But what was perhaps the significant part of the night was the conversation. We invited about 130 people which included farmers, sponsors, business and community leaders. Each dinner table had both ag and non-ag represented along with conversation starters – interesting tidbits about our local and state agriculture. The conversation starters were a huge hit.
We are pig country
We had a very short program that consisted primarily of what the event was about. We also learned a bit about the host family history. And mind you – all with the hogs noises in the background . And if you are wondering about the smell I can say the smell was between none to little. And if you are wondering why we would have it at a hog farm–it’s because it’s who we are. Our county sells nearly 2,000,000 pigs a year, which puts us #6 county in the U.S. in hog production.
At the end of the night, we heard numerous compliments from all. And I couldn’t stop smiling. Was it perfect? No, but we didn’t expect it to be perfect. This event will happen next, perhaps with a few changes and focus, but it will happen again. We all agreed it was a success!
Enjoy some of the pictures of the event.
Less than a week later, I attended my second farm to table event, which was entitled “Field to Fork.” This event had similarities to “From the Ground Up” but yet different. CommonGround sponsored this event. It was not a fundraiser. And we added a Q & A section at the end of the evening. But the focus of conversation between farmers and non-farmers was the same.
Most of the non-farmers of this event were from the twin city area and included people from the food industry, bloggers, media, and food nutrition workers. The event was hosted by a farmer just outside of the twin city area in Plato, MN. Check out our “Field to Fork” video of the event!
The makeup of the non-farmers was a little different at the Field to Fork event. There were more people interested in the farm-to-table or farm-to-school movement along with an emphasis on local markets and local farmers. But even though our farming production methods may not be what they envision as preferred farming, we still had great conversations. I think all would agree that we have more in common than not.
Question and Answer – a time for the “hard questions”
At the end of the evening, we had a Q & A session which has always been a success with other similar events I have been involved in. By the end of the evening, people were comfortable in asking questions about farming and the accompanying food systems–event the “hard” questions. I was part of the panel that answered questions. And like I always do, I wished I had answered some of the questions differently. The one question that stands out was what does the future of agriculture look like. We talked about biotechnology advancements and the improvements foreseen. But I wished I would have added the part that advancements of biotechnology are great if the public allows us to use it. There are many wonderful advancements we currently on the shelf but . . . because the current consumer perception of biotechnology is not positive, these advancements are waiting for consumers to accept them. And that makes me sad.
It’s precisely because of this that we as farmers need to reach out, listen and talk with consumers.
And . . .
We need to build trust with them. Events like these help us walk down that road with consumers.
And as I reflect and ruminate over the events, I can’t help but smile . . . The type of smile that says yes, we accomplished what we set out to do. . .
Here are some pictures from the Field to Fork event. Please enjoy.