Are Producers Connecting With Consumers?

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Consumers generally don't understand farm businesses and the disconnect between them and farmers is widening. How are you reaching city folk?

A March survey of 1,457 U.S. consumers asked what they knew about food production. Only 40% had “good knowledge” of how food is grown and processed, which means 60% knew very little. In fact, those consumers knew more about movies, politics, music and history than about food production, according to the white paper, Building Trust In What We Eat.

I talked recently with Carrie Mess, the dairy producer-blogger profiled in the story, "Dairy Blog Educates Public, Producers." We spoke of consumers’ lack of understanding of farm businesses and a widening disconnect between them and farmers. She said urbanites have more of a rapport with weekly farmers market growers than with dairy producers whose milk they use every day – but is sold through processors.

It doesn’t help that many consumers – 53% of those surveyed – seem to view farms as large, corporate-owned entities.

“In reality, the opposite is true,” according to the survey report. A total of 91% of all farms are considered small, with less than $250,000 in annual sales, 2007 Census of Agriculture statistics show.

In addition, only 22% of consumers queried trust that the ag industry is “transparent” about its food production practices.

But consumers do trust farmers for food production information, and they “overwhelmingly” trust food production information from family and friends.

“In theory,” the report reads, “it would be nice to invite every U.S. consumer down to the farm. But that isn’t realistic. Instead, marketers should consider ways to bring the farm to the consumer.”

Mess and other producers are using blogs and videos and Twitter and Facebook to give family, friends, city folk and even other farmers virtual tours of their farms. They’re showing how they grow and care for their crops and livestock. Others, like Mess’ father-in-law, prefer a one-on-one approach. He introduces himself to people buying dairy products, then simply thanks them for doing so. Essentially, they’re marketing themselves, supporting their livelihood.

In another white paper, called A Fresh Look At Organic And Natural (dowlonad here)the same surveyors found out that 70% of consumers want to know more about where their food comes from. Of those surveyed, 79% want to buy more food produced locally.

In our story, “Producers Cater To Homegrown Milk Market,” producer Noel Rosa tells why he and his brother, Rolland, built and opened a creamery earlier this year. “The fluid milk in the stores around here was coming from northern and southern California – a three- to four-hour drive away. That just wasn’t acceptable to us,” he says.

So the Tulare, CA, creamery is just 15 minutes from their dairy, serving locals with fresh products from their farm. They also installed a window between their storefront and processing plant so customers can watch how milk is bottled. At their dairy, they offer tours from April to November and, during the school year, field trips to elementary students.

The Rosas, who grow their own forages and manage a 1,000-cow milking herd, are, like Mess, marketing their products, their business – and themselves.

What are you doing to advocate what you do? Email your story to hfg@hayandforage.com or share your methods and strategies on our Facebook page.

Editor’s Note: Survey numbers were provided by Sullivan Higdon & Sink FoodThink, 2012.

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