Beans to Bacon

On raising pigs, novelist and Ohio farmer Louis Bromfield once said the animals cost him more time “than fishing or golf or any of the usual activities in which men are accustomed to find relaxation, amusement and exasperation.”

“When I’m really busy, I dare not visit the pig lots,” he wrote. “For inevitably I find myself standing there for indefinite amounts of time.”

Although friends thought he could involve himself in more important things, Bromfield’s tendency to lean on a fence post and lose himself in his pigs was simply how he came to better understand the world around him.

Farmers in Marion County are now providing a virtual fence post to allow others to do just that. But this will be more than a story about pigs and pork. It is also about people, neighbors and community. It is about those who grow food seeking to reconnect with those who eat it.

The project, called Follow Farming, was launched by a group of farmers in 2011. It had previously invited online visitors to see everything that went into growing soybeans—Ohio’s top crop—and to ask questions along the way.

As farmer Cy Prettyman put it then, “Most any farmer in a one-on-one conversation is very glad to share what they do. They’re very passionate.”

The same holds true as the farmers prepare to take their cameras and their conversations to the Isler family hog farm in the second part of the project, which they are calling “Beans to Bacon.”

“We’re going to show some aspects of the pig from birth through its life on the farm all the way to market,” said Scott Isler, a Marion County Farm Bureau member. “We’re going to show the care and what we do from day to day.”

The project uses Facebook, Twitter, a blog and videos to overcome the geographic separation between farmer and consumer. And it is just one example of the new ways farmers are reaching out to those who want to learn more about their food.

“People just want a face, someone they can talk to and feel secure about where our food’s coming from,” said Kristin Reese, a farmer from Fairfield County who volunteers in a consumer outreach program called CommonGround.

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance—a collection of farmer organizations from across the nation—also has launched a series of online conversations.

Bob Stallman, who serves as president of the American Farm Bureau and chairs the alliance, recently gave a speech to his fellow farmers, in which he called for a new approach to food conversations.

“We have been guilty. I have been guilty, too often in the past, of telling consumers what we think they need to hear as opposed to listening and answering their questions, openly and honestly. That is changing,” he said.

As for the Follow Farming project, no one is suggesting a danger of losing indefinite amounts of time, as Bromfield did, to the lives of pigs (Although, it is likely to improve upon the majority of today’s reality programming).

Instead, the project offers a chance to observe, to inquire and, most of all, to connect.

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