In The Dirt
The average American is at least four generations removed from the farm. One could argue that consumers know that farmers are around, and they play a part in food - but the connection from the farm to their plates is as clear as mud.
This is frustrating for those involved in agriculture. Farmers get emotional when consumers think that getting food to plates is easy. Farmers get emotional with those consumers, who are removed from the farm complain about farming practices. It's not easy to stand idly by and have people who have not had the opportunity to learn how things work, complain that it's not good enough.
Two different opportunities popped up recently that really brought this point to the forefront. They reinforced that in this climate, a part of a farmer's job is to talk about what they do. By being emotional and upset that there is a disconnect and that there is incorrect information does no good to anyone - farmers or consumers. This is wasted energy. We need understand that this dosconnect is nobodys fault. Consumers are a product of their surroundings. Not all consumers grew up on a farm...and that's okay.
WCR - WOMEN CHEFS & RESTAURATEURS
There is an amazing group of female chefs and restaurateurs that are a part of an organization call WCR. I was honored to be on a panel with 2 other incredible women farmers. We were able to tell our stories about farming. We talked a lot about our families, our operations, sustainability, and how we see the future of agriculture.
The feedback and questions from the audience were very insightful. One person was very passionate and intent to be in this session. She spcifically wanted an explanation of why industrial or commercial agriculture did what it did. Her story is that she is a chef. She grows her own produce and raises chickens and hogs. Her perception is that this is sustainable agriculture and should be replicated as much as possible. She can do it, so why can't it be done this way in the masses?
This is a prime example of where it could have gotten emotional. Fortunately, the conversation was geared about why there are different farming strategies. The discussion was about acknowledging her on finding a way to produce food that aligns with her values and allows her to be profitable. The farmers on the panel, then began to explain that while her methods are ideal for her, it would be extremely difficult to scale – profitably and efficiently. It would be next to impossible to feed the world healthy, safe, and fresh food by limiting certain technologies. The conversation was about farmers, no matter how big or what the crop is, we all just want to do the right thing - for the land, for the customers and for our families. And on that, we could all agree.
RETAIL FARM TOUR
On a hot sunny day, in the middle of harvest, several people in retail grocery store leadership positions came out to a potato field and packing facility. They are the front line to engaging with consumers. They are the ones who talk to people who think food comes from the grocery store. This is a huge opportunity to tell the real story. To show the people and activities behind the food and to talk about it in an experiential way.
It was dirty, but the group was excited to see how potatoes get to the store. Their eyes were wide open, they were ready to learn, and their phones were taking pictures of everything. They asked questions, took video, and were in absolute awe of the process. Getting into the field they watched the harvester and they dug up a plant to see potatoes under the ground. This was something that leaders of one of the biggest and best grocery retailers in the U.S. have never seen. They are at the forefront of the consumer conversation. To have that conversation authentically - they must see it, smell it, feel it, and experience it firsthand.
A key learning from these events is that the conversation matters. Showing what really happens matters. Those who are disconnected from their food are not interested in the technical details. They are not interested in how hard it is and the challenges farmers face. They are not interested in hearing farmers go on the defensive. They just want to know where it comes from and know that there is a person behind it doing the right thing.
Keep the farming story simple. Farmers do what they can to do the right thing. Farmers love their families. Farmers know that what they produce, people eat. Farmers know that the health of the environment dictates their success and future.
Farmers know, that the dirt matters.