There are around 2.1 million farms in the U.S., while the current population hovers around 319 million. That statistic at least partially explains why there's such a wide knowledge gap between the average consumer and farmers. Ag groups teamed up with NASCAR in September to try to narrow that gap by brining farming and food to the finish line at the Chicagoland Speedway.
Their mission was simple - bring a new initiative called “Let’s Talk Food” to center stage, with two NASCAR personalities to drive the message home.
“When the initiative of Let's Talk Food came together, for me it was just the icing on the cake, it's an extra piece to what we've been trying to accomplish for a number of years now,” says Justin Allgaier, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver of the Number 7 car.
Allgaier and fellow driver Dakoda Armstrong share this passion for educating consumers about agriculture.
“Just trying to educate the consumer about what they're eating, what the farmer has to do to grow, and all the restrictions we have and everything we have to do to be able to feed the world,” says Armstrong, who also competes in the Xfinity Series, driving the Number 28 car.
“It's so crazy to me just the lack of education that the public has on what the ag industry goes through what the struggles are, what the challenges are, what the benefits are of what they can provide for a consumer,” Allgaier says.
Let’s Talk Food sported a prominent footprint during the NASCAR race at Chicagoland speedway. The initiative kicked off with the launch of a new website. Then, on race day, from cars to burn suits to hats, the drivers and partners Brandt, WinField and U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance fueled conversation and turned fans’ attentions to agriculture.
“We've often talked about what's good for just production, and we haven't got the message out on how innovation and sustainability, is not only good for production of food and fiber, but it's an awesome story to the world,” says Mitch Eviston, senior vice president of marketing for WinField.
“For most producers, that combine is their sanctuary, that's their comfort zone,” says Karl Barnhart, Brandt Chief Marketing Officer. “Moving to talk to a local school, local government body or a local consumer, that's what's difficult for them.”
“We have 40 to 60 million women making the majority of food purchase decisions in this country,” says Randy Krotz, CEO of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers. “So, we are a little overwhelmed.”
It’s a striking statistic, and one that impacts buying decisions across the country. That’s why they teamed up with FFA members from Chicago Ag Sciences, a high school in Chicago that focuses on teaching ag to inner city students, to discover what consumers really think about how their food is produced. The answers were astonishing, including some saying they don’t think their food is produced safely.
“Farmers are extraordinarily trusted by consumers, [but] they don't trust the way we grow and raise food,” says Krotz. “So, that's the shift we have to make. We have to familiarize consumers everyday with why we confine livestock, why we use GMOs, why we grow organic food - really just to reconnect consumers across the country with farming and production agriculture.”
“I think more and more people want to know more about their food, what’s in it, how’s it produced, where did it come from and even down to dates and production methods,” says Rick Brandt, President and CEO of Brandt. “I think Let's Talk Food is going to be an ongoing tool for us to know more about food, know how it’s produced.”
It’s a difficult conversation to start, but one Armstrong thinks can have a positive outcome.
Allgaier says drivers always want to win every race, but for Let’s Talk Food, success is measured in different ways.
“If we can educate one person that educates another one person and it spreads throughout the community, I think we've done our job,” he says.
NASCAR and its drivers attract fans of all ages, who will hopefully start to cheer for farmers, too.