There is a conversation going on about food. Entire television networks, radio programs and magazines have long sought to elevate the humble act of eating by transforming the tastes and textures of our meals. Now, consumers want to know more. They want to know how their food was produced, if it is safe and if it is the best option for their families.
Farmers must be part of this conversation. Logically, it makes sense. Farmers grow the food. They have the most intimate knowledge of how they do so and why they select particular methods. They understand consumer questions intimately because they too must answer them when they prepare meals for their own tables.
Programs such as CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance facilitate this discussion. Helping bridge the gap between the rural communities in which farms exist and the urban landscape in which most consumers reside, the volunteer farmers who speak out about their personal experiences lend a voice to the very small percentage of the population who grows food for a hungry world.
How effective are these efforts? Can one conversation really make a difference? While this evidence may be anecdotal, the impact of one conversation can radiate infinitely like ripples on a pond.
This summer, a group of women who volunteer to speak through the Missouri CommonGround program shared a lunch with Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Jon Hagler during the state fair. Through the course of their conversation, the women talked about their farms, their feelings about food and the importance of opening a positive, inclusive dialogue with the people who eat what they grow.
November 30, those messages hit a larger audience when Hagler appeared on the National Public Radio Program St. Louis On the Air. While Hagler certainly covered a variety of topics and in no way parroted the conversation, the tone of inclusive, positive, open conversation carried through.
Callers responded. Ordinary citizens from across the metropolitan area asked specific, direct questions about a wide variety of food-related topics. Whether their particular interest was in food safety, production practices, sustainability or in where to find answers, the move toward an intense public interest in agriculture was evident.
Did this one luncheon shape Hagler’s perception? While it certainly was not the entire basis for his viewpoint, the importance of a sustained conversation between farmers and the public is undeniable. Directly or through influential persons, farmers need to help address concerns and become a part of the conversation.
Make today count. Join the discussion on food. Farmers impact the world through what they grow. It is time to talk about it.