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Forgive them for asking
Buckeye Farm News
First, an informal poll. Which of the following best describes you?
__ I’d prefer to be left alone to run my farm as I and generations before me have done successfully and responsibly.
__ I’d prefer to take time out of my schedule to defend accusations that my farm is detrimental to the environment, animal well-being and human health.
Now rank your least favorite chores?
__ Shoveling out the stalls
__ Repairing a broken combine during harvest
__ Paying fuel, seed and fertilizer bills
__ Giving a speech about agriculture to a community group
This isn’t to imply that farmers, particularly those who direct market their products, don’t enjoy consumer interaction. But if you’re hauling corn to the elevator or steers to the auction, you’re likely more inclined to respond to the market report than the opinions of the average suburbanite.
That gets to Ohio Farm Bureau’s mission of “forging a partnership between farmers and consumers.”
As an Advisory Council recently noted “The plan sounds good on paper. Making it function is another story.”
Farmers rightly question why they should have to respond to the outrageous criticisms that are directed their way. And they are acutely aware that it is so easy for others to complain because their stomachs are full. Does overcoming public prejudice mean swallowing a little pride?
“I’m concerned when I hear some of the questions that consumers sometimes ask farmers,” said Janet Cassidy, OFBF senior director of marketing communications. “I certainly understand the frustration farmers must feel.”
But during a recent meeting, David White, OFBF senior director of issues management, asked farmers how they think consumers would respond to a recent CBS News report claiming that giving antibiotics to livestock was casuing a national health crisis.
“It would scare the hell out of you,” one farmer replied. “It would scare me if I didn’t know any better.”
White said those who have lost touch with the farm are becoming inclined to address these perceived problems through public policy.
“What has historically been food philosophy, we’re now going to have to deal with legislatively,” he said.
Cassidy noted that consumers don’t have much reason to know the details about how farms operate.
“Our opponents are simply planting seeds of doubt, and it’s having an influence,” she said. She also believes consumers generally don’t want to be involved with the details of agricultural policy. “What most people really want is access to local farmers and to feel good about how their food is produced,” she said. “But if they can’t find reassurance by talking to a farmer, they may find comfort through additional regulation.”
OFBF has launched extensive consumer outreach through its Our Ohio brand, which includes a magazine, Web site, TV show and events that are all aimed at connecting consumers to Ohio agriculture. County Farm Bureaus are also exploring ways to be more open with consumers through community events, farmers’ share breakfasts, displays about local agriculture and even social media.
Some counties have considered opening up local board meetings to offer others a look at how the organization approaches policy issues. There is also an interest in providing farmers with pocket-sized video cameras so they can capture their daily activities and share them online with consumers.
“The most important thing is to put a local face on the issues,” Cassidy said. “The effort on Issue 2 last year was so successful because people trusted what they were hearing from local farmers.”
And answering questions could do more than ease consumer concerns, she suggested.
“This could be a huge economic driver for Ohio agriculture,” she said. “If this state becomes a leader in building trust between farmers and consumers, it will open up new opportunities for businesses to boast that their products were grown in Ohio.”