Chipotle’s “Farmed And Dangerous” Series Designed To Divide The Agricultural Community
By Laurie Greene, Associate Editor
After significant discussion among the Center for Land-Based Learning’s (CLBL) Board of Directors, they cancelled a Burrito Day! fundraising event with Chipotle, scheduled for Thursday, February 20, 2014.
Historically, the highly popular, nationwide Chipotle Mexican Grill chain, with its image closely tied to sustainable agriculture, has strongly supported the CLBL, which provides programs that create and nurture the next generation of farmers. That’s great because sustainability is key to all California farmers.
The Center, based in Winters, first became concerned about the fundraiser after Chipotle launched trailers one week prior to the fundraiser about a comedy series called, “Farmed and Dangerous.”
As stated on the Chipotle logo-identified Farmed and Dangerous website, “The series explores the outrageously twisted and utterly unsustainable world of industrial agriculture.” The series launched on HULU on February 17, three days prior to the event, and the company issued a press release stating that it “provides a satirical look at the lengths the agriculture industry goes to manage perceptions about its practices.”
The trailer narrative reads, “Industrial agriculture giant Animoil thinks it has the solution to feeding the world—and its own interests. But when activist Chip Randolph sets out to expose what happens before the meat gets butchered and the products hit the shelves, things get messy, literally.”
The Center cancelled the fundraising event citing the series’ animosity toward production agriculture as a marketing strategy, thus hurting agriculture at all levels, and called for critical-thinking and dialogue rather than divisive marketing.
Mary Kimbel, Executive Director, CLBL, said the Center had worked with Chipotle as a mutually beneficial partner for about 2.5 years. First, a Chipotle project last fall got the Center’s attention.
On September 12, 2013, Chipotle released “Scarecrow” and an accompanying press release with the following description:
Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) today launched “The Scarecrow,” an arcade-style adventure game for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, along with a companion animated short film of the same name. Both the game and the film depict a scarecrow’s journey to bring wholesome food back to the people by providing an alternative to the processed food that dominates his world.
“The Scarecrow” film and game are designed to help educate people about the world of industrial food production that supplies much of what they eat.
“The more people learn about where their food comes from and how it is prepared, the more likely they are to seek out high-quality, classically prepared food like we serve in our restaurants,” said Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer at Chipotle. “We created ‘The Scarecrow’ game and film as an entertaining and engaging way to help people better understand the difference between processed food and the real thing.”
“More recently,” Kimbel said, “We made a decision to do a fundraising with 43 Chipotle restaurants from Chico to Visalia, including Napa and Sonoma as well.”
“We were to receive 50% of the proceeds from customers who mentioned CLBL or produced a fundraising flyer (on paper or cell phone),” Kimbel continued. “We would have received $20,000 to $40,000, but it is hard to know of course.”
What CLBL did receive was a strong agricultural industry response to Chipotle’s marketing strategies. “Out of concern,” said Kimbel, “the CLBL Board watched the trailers and observed that this was a whole different level of marketing than prior Chipotle releases. It was stronger from the standpoint of really vilifying large-scale production agriculture, and our organization has always stood for working with all parts of agriculture, whether it’s a small-scale farm or a large-scale farm.”
She believes the series is too one-sided and agriculture is not black and white. “Agriculture is complex, has many challenges and we need to work on getting solutions,” explained Kimbel.
CLBL reached out to Chipotle management to have a discussion and is appreciative that Chipotle agreed and arranged it quickly. It was to have occurred on Friday (after press time).
“We want to understand their reasoning for the marketing campaign the way it is, and we want to present some of the information that we have here and why we think that there can be a positive kind of campaign without tearing down production Agriculture,” Kimbel commented.
“Chipolte has done a lot of very important things for the agricultural industry and they have made very positive changes, and we wish that that would be what was portrayed instead of tearing down part of agriculture that doesn’t need to be torn down.”
“All of agriculture is very important to our society,” she said.
Regarding an outcome, Kimbel said, “Hopefully we will be able to come to a decision that we will be able to work together in the future with regards to discussions about marketing campaigns or and at least to be able to weigh in and provide input and feedback as it allows.”
“We have no idea what the ability to do that is, but those would be the things we would be asking for.”
Here is the Center for Land-Based Learning’s official statement dated February 20, 2014:
Chipotle has been a strong supporter of Land-Based Learning programs, and we have appreciated Chipotle’s partnership and enthusiasm for our mission. However, the Board unanimously feels that Chipotle’s current “Farmed and Dangerous” mini-series crosses a line by fostering animosity toward production agriculture. This strategy hurts agriculture at all levels, not just large-scale production agriculture.
The Land-Based Learning board represents a broad range of leaders in the community, including farmers, educators, financial professionals, and policy experts. Land-Based Learning is not dedicated to any particular farming approach; instead, we aim, through education, to produce future leaders in agriculture, whether small or large, organic or conventional.
We are disappointed in Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous” series. Land-Based Learning has always advocated for an open and honest dialogue about agricultural production; accordingly, we agree with Chipotle’s goal to promote critical thinking and discussion about the sources of our food. Chipotle’s previous contributions to the discussion have been challenging and provocative in a positive way.
We disagree, however, with the tone and approach of this new series, which appears designed to divide the agricultural community into big production (inherently malevolent) and small production (inherently virtuous). This is a false choice. Rather than educate the community about where its food comes from, we view the series as pitting some farms against other farms and inaccurately portraying the overwhelming majority of responsible food production operations.
The reality is that production agriculture is large and small, organic and conventional, and everything in between. Our programs, which educate high-school students about agriculture, conservation and sustainability on working farms and ranches throughout the state, are strongly supported by a wide range of agricultural interests, all of which see the value in education and training for a new generation of farmers and leaders in California. We have no doubt that this diversity of supporters is one of our greatest strengths as an organization.
The Land-Based Learning leadership team has scheduled a meeting with Chipotle’s senior management to personally convey this message, to attempt to understand the reasoning behind the “Farmed and Dangerous” series, and to request that Chipotle reconsider its divisive marketing strategy. Through constructive dialogue with Chipotle, it is our hope that their campaign might be transformed to promote productive discussion on the values we share related to a healthy and sustainable food supply.
The Center for Land-Based Learning is dedicated to creating the next generation of farmers and teaching California’s youth about the importance of agriculture and watershed conservation.