Connect with consumers by inviting them over for dinner
Since the Pilgrims and Native Americans sat down for the first Thanksgiving feast, food has always served as a common bond between strangers.
In keeping with that spirit, fourth-generation northern Idaho farmers Joe and Gayle Anderson connect with consumers by hosting a dinner during harvest to a table full of strangers.
This fall marked their fourth "Dinner on the Farm," which includes a combine ride and the opportunity to ask questions about farming.
"No question is off the table," Gayle explains. "Our guests are allowed to ask us whatever they want and we’ll try and answer their questions. They are in charge of where the conversation goes
While an open dialogue could lead to a heated discussion, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, the guests talk about family and community involvement with an occasional question mixed in to ground-truth something they’ve read or heard about agriculture through the media.
The Andersons’ dinner event is a natural extension of Gayle’s blog, called "A Glorious Life of an Idaho Farmwife" at www.idahofarmwife.net. Pictures and videos give visitors a glimpse of life on their farm operation, which consists of wheat, barley, chickpea and garbanzo beans.
In the "At Home on the Farm" section, Gayle shares personal photos and stories that relate to her life as a mom, grandma and daughter. She shares her joys and challenges to help visitors realize that farmers are just like everyone else. Gayle’s love for cooking takes center stage in her "OMG Delicious Desserts!", "Cooking Tip of the Week" and "Cake of the Month Club" sections.
"The job of feeding America and the world includes being better stewards of the land and being better communicators to the nonfarm sector," Gayle explains.
In addition to dinner, Joe takes time to show the guests around the farm and explain the various production practices, such as why he sprays for weeds.
"Too many times, we try to make advocacy for agriculture too hard. The only reason consumers don’t identify with farming today is because they don’t have a connection with a farmer and they don’t associate their food with farming—they associate it with a grocery store," she says.
A key to the success of the Andersons’ Dinner on the Farm event is timing. While harvest season is busy, it also is a prime opportunity to show and tell. When Gayle initially told Joe about her idea, he was supportive, as long as the dinner happened toward the end of harvest season.
Figure out a way to reach out to nonfarm friends, Gayle encourages other farmers. Maybe that means volunteering to do a program about your farm operation for your local chamber of commerce, or maybe it’s a simple conversation with someone at the grocery store. If you enjoy cooking, invite a few nonfarm friends to dinner and see what happens.
"In the end, it’s about developing mutual trust and respect between our guests and us," Gayle says.
¦ Invitation list: Local politicians, bankers and other businesspeople; food co-op managers; organic food lovers; food activists; and another farm couple to help you answer questions.
¦ Ask attendees if they have any special dietary needs, such as gluten-free, food allergy or vegetarian preferences. If so, make sure you meet those requests to show you care.
¦Make name tags for everyone.
¦ Assign seats so consumers sit across the table from the farmers, so everyone can see each other when talking.
¦Prepare a goodie bag for guests to take home.
¦Include a business card with your contact information.
For more information about the Andersons’ advocacy efforts, visit
Editor’s Note: This article is dedicated to Andrew Nelson, son-in-law of Joe and Gayle Anderson, who died unexpectedly at press time. We extend our condolences to the family.