Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber

March 4, 2017 02:09 AM

Research shows we’re making progress, but there’s much left to be done

It was over the course of just a few moments, standing in an Illinois sweet corn field, when farmer Michelle Stewart saw she made a difference.


Like dozens of other city folks she had hosted on her family’s farm 50 miles outside Chicago, the “mommy bloggers” who got to traipse through their first field of sweet corn that day were amazed at what they experienced.

One visitor in particular, her baby in tow, seemed to love the taste of the field-fresh corn.

“It was fun seeing her excitement, watching her taking pictures with her baby tasting the corn and putting it on social media,” says Stewart, who leads Farm Journal Foundation’s Farm Team from Illinois. “I thought, ‘You’re a real person, a mom just like me.’” And Stewart knew in that instant the city-dweller felt the same.

Whether you’re like Stewart and take part in an advocacy organization, or do what you can on your own, farmers and ranchers have focused on telling ag’s story anew for several years now, since consumers got more interested in where their food comes from. 

Name a checkoff, agribusiness or agricultural organization and you’ll likely find a program that’s popped up in the past five or 10 years dedicated to breaking out of farming’s echo chamber and reaching the public with the truth about agriculture.

The farmers who have volunteered through the years have opened their doors, outbuildings and combine cabs to countless visitors, including politicians, journalists and the folks who live down the road. And finally, it looks like their efforts are paying off.

Farm Journal Foundation’s Farm Team matches farmers like Stewart in Illinois and 16 other states with non-farm folks and policymakers. Their objective: to advocate for bolstering the U.S. role in promoting global food security. Stewart has spoken with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and hosted visitors on her own operation. The Foundation, a non-profit sister organization of Farm Journal Media, also sponsors HungerU, a bus tour of U.S. universities where young advocates engage with college students about the need to fight hunger. Many also get the chance to visit with producers from the Farm Team, like Stewart.

The HungerU traveling exhibit (see photo on previous page) reached more than 21,000 college students on 10 stops in 2016, with information about the importance of food security and agriculture’s role fighting it. Each time a student took an eight-question “HungerU Challenge” on food security and nutrition, Farm Journal Foundation donated a meal. More than 6,700 such meals were distributed in 2016.

But is all this work—the social media postings, farm tours, grocery store conversations and Facebook exchanges—making any difference? Are we making any progress?

Yes and yes, according to the Center for Food Integrity’s Donna Moenning. The membership-based, consumer-research and strategic initiatives organization specializes in helping agriculture and food companies earn trust with today’s consumer. A bedrock of their approach: their belief that shared values, rather than lots of facts and figures, are most important in building trust.

CFI’s annual research shows more consumers are feeling more positive about where their food comes from, Moenning says. Some 55% of respondents answered affirmatively in 2016 when asked whether “the food system is headed in the right direction or down the wrong track.” That’s up from 40% the year before.

And when you consider the upward progression of positive responses to another statement—“I am confident in the safety of the food I eat”—the progress is even more pronounced over time (see the chart below, at left).

Moenning, who works for CFI from her family’s crop and livestock farm in Minnesota, says farmers and agribusiness should take a bow. But don’t take consumers for granted.

“Everyone has stepped up to be more transparent, more engaging, to put themselves out there,” Moenning says. “Can more be done? Absolutely. Eighty percent of consumers say they want more information. So there’s more to do.”




Apply to get involved in the Farm Journal Foundation’s Farm Team and connect with consumers and policymakers in Washington, D.C. and your area. Learn more at www.farmersfeeding


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