Among the mix of registered dietitians conveying the accurate message, California Ag Today concluded our conversation about Facts Not Fear with Teresa Thorn, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, located in Watsonville.
The Alliance hosted the second Facts Not Fear produce safety media tour, in conjunction with Markon Cooperative, for registered dieticians, health and nutrition writers, and bloggers last month in the Salinas Valley. Impacting the customer with the proper information is key.
“We have a mix of writers and bloggers who again have that bullhorn to consumers,” Thorn said.
Social media was also used in conveying the message.
“They’re posting, and we’ve read it and retweeted a lot of their stuff so you can go to our social channels and see some of it,” she explained.
Speaking to growers was very important, and asking industry professionals to attend was vital to cultivating relationships.
“They loved being out in the field. We were always the last ones to get on the bus because they had so many questions,” Thorn said.
The group also does a roundtable discussion where they bring in scientists, shafts, regulators, farmers, and farming companies into the room at Markon’s Produce Expo.
“Building that network was really important,” Thorn said.
“Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media Tour Helps Bloggers Learn About Ag
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
Closing the gap between the consumer and the farm is a continuous work in progress. Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, is dedicated to making this happen. She helped put on the second “Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media Tour for registered dietitians, health and nutrition writers, and bloggers recently in the Salinas Valley, which directly focused on consumer concerns.
The “Fact Not Fear” tour allowed media influencers to see farming practices first hand, in hopes that they would share the information learned with the consumers that follow them.
“We look at them to kind of be the consumer eyes and ears and really learn more about how we produce food,” Thorne explained.
Thorne also noted that one of the main topics brought up during the round table discussion was the great “organic versus conventional farming” debate. “The farmers that were there did a great job of talking about the fact that there’s actually more similarities than differences,” she said.
In a consumer-driven industry, educating people has never been more crucial.
“For them to come out and see firsthand what we do, and then share that back with those consumers and be able to address their concerns directly, it’s just really important for us.”
“Facts Not Fear” Educates Participants on Vegetable Production
News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh
The Alliance for Food and Farming, in conjunction with Markon Cooperative, hosted its second “Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media tour last week in the Salinas Valley.
“Our goal is for … [registered dieticians], health and nutrition writers and bloggers to see firsthand the care and commitment farmers have for producing safe and wholesome foods. We believe we met that goal. But, what we learn from our tour guests continues to be just as valuable,” said Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, based in Watsonville.
In addition to farm and facility tours, the AFF and Markon facilitated a round table meeting where tour guests were joined by farmers and farming companies, scientists, regulators and chefs for a free-flowing discussion that encompassed food safety, farming practices, food waste, pesticide use, food safety regulations, new technologies, health and nutrition, and consumer outreach.
The RDs, bloggers, and writers attending the tour reported they enjoyed the chance to tour the farms one day and then discuss what they saw with these experts. They also appreciated the opportunity to share their information needs and concerns directly during the round table discussion.
And, what were some of our key takeaways from guests? Consumers want transparent and honest communication regarding food safety and food production practices. The RDs, bloggers, and writers share The Alliance for Food and Farming’s concerns about produce safety misinformation and appreciate and need access to scientists and experts that can assist them when addressing consumer questions and correcting misconceptions.
“And, they were very impressed with the technological advancements they saw in the harvesting and processing of produce,” said Thorne.
“While the importance of seeing the fields and harvest and touring processing facilities cannot be underscored enough, meeting and connecting with the people growing our food, directly sharing concerns with farmers and scientists in a group and one-on-one setting and the expansion of their produce industry network is of equal importance for our guests,” Thorne explained.
“Our sincere thanks to everyone who allowed us to visit their farms, watch the harvest, view their processing facilities as well as joined us for the round table discussion,” Thorne said. “And, our thanks and appreciation to our tour partner, Markon Cooperative, for making this tour possible as well as our tour sponsors Cal-Giant Berry Farms, the California Strawberry Commission and the Produce Marketing Association.”
Thorne also praised the 2017 and 2018 tour alumni.
“We will keep the conversation going and look forward to learning more from the attendees as we all work toward our shared goal of increasing daily consumption of organic and conventional fruits and veggies,” she said.
The host, The Markon Cooperative, supplies the food service industry fresh fruits and vegetables.
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.”