Anna Gomes is a senior at UC Davis studying Agricultural and Environmental Education, with a focus on plant and soil science. She spoke recently to California Ag Today about consumer outreach to the next generation regarding agriculture at the recent Bayer Crop Science Agvocate Forum. She also explained the plan to open up an Ugly Food Market in Sacramento.
Gomes said her background in agricultural education prepared her for consumer outreach.
“I had a really unique journey through my undergrad career. So as an Ag Education major, not only have I been focusing on communication, but a lot of it’s been focused on, “How do we take this hard science and actually convert it into something that’s understandable from a consumer’s point of view and their perspective?’ ” she said.
Gomes said agvocacy is something that she is working on.
“I’m really interested in the science and research behind moving agriculture forward, and I think there’s huge potential there, but how do we educate consumers about this research and about what’s going on to really make it impactful and make it actually practical in the ag industry?
“I think you can really start from their perspectives. What makes them interested in agriculture, and how are they connecting to it? Is it merely that they consumed food every single day?” Gomes said. “OK, start with that. What do you eat? Where does it come from? What do you know about it? It’s good to start with them and get to know them, instead of starting with you and getting to know them.”
The Ugly Food Market is something that Gome started at UC Davis, which aims to reduce food waste and eliminate food insecurity,
“It’s a startup through the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. We’ve been participating in entrepreneurial competition. We’ve pitched for seed funds, so wish us luck,” noted Gomes. “We want to start a physical marketplace in Sacramento, focused around food waste and food insecurity. We’re using shrinks from grocery stores, cull fruit from the farm, wholesalers and distributors, all in between the food chain.”
Greg Crutsinger, a Drone Ecologist with Scholar Farms, recently spoke at the Bayer Crop Science AgVocate Forum in Anaheim. Crutsinger directs consulting and training services with a special emphasis on drone vegetation and aerial drone mapping.
He’s a professional ecologist and a former professor who left academia to join the Silicon Valley drone industry, where he has worked with some of the leading drone hardware and software companies. Scholar Farms’ core values are to consistently seek to provide best in class training experiences for their clients.
Their list is growing, with clients across a range of commercial industry interested in mapping plants with drones. They include agricultural, forestry, environmental consulting, local and state agencies, GIS Surveys, scientific applications, service providers, and much more. Crutsinger spoke of the upcoming master classes Scholar Farms will be hosting
“We are launching our master class. We’re still dialing in the pricing, but it will be couple hundred bucks,” Crutsinger said. “If you take the course, we’ll walk you through from zero to hero. It’s all online, so it’s a self-paced video series that will give you an example data sets; you don’t even have to have a drone and it will give you the complete background on drone imagery, all the sensors, all the hardware, and you can just take it at your own pace.”
People with a wide range of job in skill levels are welcome to take the class.
“We’ve made it broad so it’s really just a master class for mapping plants. So you could be a grower, you can be an agronomist, you could be a service provider, such as flying drones for farms, but you could also be an ecologist or forester or a public agency,” explained Crutsinger.
“The tools are pretty similar but it’s the interpretation that folks will have to do for themselves, for their farm, or for their crop,” said Crutsinger. “We can’t do it all, but it will get you started and get you out there collecting data. Folks can follow @ScholarFarms on twitter, and we’re excited to talk to folks. We are a new company and we’re happy to be in the state.”
Jenny Schwiegert, AgChat Foundation chief executive director, spoke to Laurie Greene, California Ag Today editor, at the recent Bayer AgVocacy Forum about one of the biggest challenges to agricultural advocacy. “We’ve got excellent bloggers out there,” Schwiegert said, “however, the audience they [reach] tends to be other growers and ranchers. We do not want to be singing to the choir. We need to find other ways to connect with non-ag consumers.”
Schwiegert elaborated on some of the resources for non-ag readers posted on theAgChat website, “There’s a page under “Resources” that talks about different non-agricultural hashtags people can use when they tweet or use Instagram or Snapchat. We also have a post about people with whom we need to connect on Twitter who are not necessarily in the agricultural industry.”
To [farmers and Ag bloggers] who are trying to determine who their audience might be, Schwiegert advised, “There is more to you than just farming and ranching. You know, I like to do renovations at my home; I like photography; and I’m a baseball mom. When I began blogging, which I don’t do as much recently, my strategy was always to be incognito and not say, ‘Hey, this is what I do.’ I would only talk about farming.”
However, Schwiegert discovered that when she talked about those other topics that are not necessarily related to farming, her posts attracted a lot more of a mom-based or photographer-based audience. She suggested, “Find that spark, the other part of your life that is not related to farming and ranching, and explore and talk about it. Connect with other people [consumers] who have that same desire to have a hobby or whose kids are also in baseball, or whatever it might be.”
While connecting with people via a distinctly different interest can be constructive, Schwiegert held that consumers do trust and want to hear about agriculture from farmers and ranchers. She referred to a recent finding that while the majority of people do not know how to get in contact with a farmer, farmers are the people they want to talk to and get their information from.
“We have also experienced this on a personal basis,” Schwiegert shared. “While our operation is very small, we like to take people, and not necessarily adults. Sometimes we will bring our children’s friends out, show them the sheep, and take them to my in-laws’ dairy. My younger two sons have an egg business, so we’ll show them that too.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the time,” Schwiegert said, “someone will say, ‘Oh these are so much better than the store-bought, and the store-bought has been sitting on the shelves for months.’ That’s where I stop and say, ‘that is not necessarily true. Let me connect you with Katy who is in Iowa or let me connect you with Greg in Oregon, whose egg farm is producing 1.5M eggs a day.’”
“I like to connect people,” she explained, “to help them understand what modern agriculture is all about because we tend to have a [rustic] romantic, idealistic view of what a farm is, and that is what people want.” But, she contends, that may not match what farming really is in today’s world. “I think people really do want to talk to the farmers and ranchers,” said Schwiegert. “They just don’t know how to go about connecting with them.”
Schwiegert does not know if there is a definite ‘disconnect’ between this romantic view of the rustic farm scene with antiquated tools, and consumers who use the latest devices and apps. She said, “I am not sure how to re-connect that. For instance, why is it ok to use an antibiotic if you have pneumonia, but it is not ok to use it in chicken? And I’m not sure how we mend that because consumers are not trustworthy of statistics and science, so I guess that it is one of the million-dollar questions out there. You know, how is it OK for them to have a Fitbit, but our farmers can’t use GPS or auto-steer in their tractors or precision Ag drones?
“That is a huge disconnect, and we need to address it as an industry,” Schwiegert reflected. “I think a lot of people in agriculture are intimidated and scared to share their stories because there are folks out there who are ready to pounce. And especially if you have small children, you do not want to have those types of people on your property. So people are hesitant to share their stories.
“I have the same fears,” Schwiegert stated. “I don’t want people like that on my farm. But the more that we can share our stories out in public, using different methods—whether through social media or a farm-to-table type of event with a commodity group at a public location—the more likely we are to mend that disconnect.”